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

Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

The magical and inconsistant world of Harry Potter

In Books, Movies on July 30, 2009 at 9:46 pm

A few years ago, my wife was first exposed to Harry Potter in the form of one of the movies.  Probably the third or fourth, which were much better than the first two Chris Columbus snooze-fests.  She was pretty entertained but had an odd criticism.  “I don’t like the wands,” she said.  She thought, if I’m remembering correctly, that in a world of such high magic, wizards should not need little phallus devices to work their mojo and that their presence diminished the coolness of Rowling’s magical world.  It was not something that ever had bothered me, until I started thinking about J.K.’s take on the use of magic in this world.

First, there is the wand shit.  Wizards seem to be pretty worthless without wands.  Disarming a wizard seems to be a good way to render them helpless.  Also, usually wands require  some kind of verbal trigger, often in some Latinish phrase, to do its thing.  So, this is how magic works…except when it doesn’t.  For instance, potential wizard folk are discovered among the non-magical people (Muggles to those Muggles out there.  Yes, I hate myself) by the fact that they can sometimes make the inexplicable happen.  So, these untrained losers can work magic without wands.  Like when Harry makes the glass disappear at the zoo and makes Roast Beefy fall into the snake pit.  No wand or pseudo-dead language necessary.  Also, in the course of the books and movies, Dumbledore and the like sometimes cast with no verbal, material, or somatic components.  So which is it?  Do you need the wand or not?  Or does the wand allow more predictable control and precision?  Whatever.

Another example is the fucking brooms.  These are personal flying devices that allow even the most inexperienced wizards to zoom around at will.  So, of course these are used all the time to help deal with the many dangers Harry and company deal with all the time.  No, wait.  These magical and wonderful device are used almost exclusively for one of the dumbest, most ill-conceived games ever invented, involving rings, bats, and three types of balls zooming around an oval soccer pitch.  Yeah, that makes sense.  If I were a wizard, I’d be riding that fucking broom to get from my couch to the fridge.  Walking is for suckers.

Can anyone think of a better use for an amazing personal flying machine.  How about... ANYTHING?!?

Can anyone think of a better use for an amazing personal flying machine. How about... ANYTHING?!?

And finally, let’s get to wizard fighting.  It usually consists of wizards whipping little spells at each other while the other kinda parries them, knocks them away, or dodges them.  Occasionally, some magic words are muttered to paralyze or disarm or whatever, but it usually consists of people magicking at each other as I described.  I would have liked to have seen Hermione smuggle a handgun from her Dad’s dresser into Hogwarts and blown Voldemort away.  I mean, he uses a “killing spell” or whatever on Harry’s parents and he’s the scariest dude ever.  Let’s see how he deals with raining artillery shell or a sniper round from a half mile away.  Christ, wands don’t even have sights.  How the fuck do you effectively aim one?

Or, I could let this shit go because its a wonderful, magical world intended to fascinate and entertain children, not something to be torn apart by bitter grognards.

Nah.

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Digital Natives

In Movies on July 29, 2009 at 9:36 pm

In one of education classes, Technology in the Classroom, I was introduced to the concepts of digital natives and digital immigrants.  Digital natives are people born after the rise of the digital age or at least with no real memory of a time before the internet.  The rest of us are digital immigrants, those trying to find our way in this crazy modern world.  I find that people in my particular age group are in a weird position.  We have real and solid memories of times before email and google, but were young enough to fully embrace it rather than reject it.  Yet, we remember, don’t we, the days of looking at newspapers for movie times, learning about the news on TV, and sending actual letters.  But sometimes we forget and we need to be reminded.

Case and point.  Today, I read about some descriptions from clips from Iron Man 2 from Comic Con.  I was interested in this, obviously, and went to the internet to watch it.  But what?  Nowhere to be found.  How could this be possible in the 21st century?  I was indignant.  Why would I be kept from watching something when some other people got to see it?

I want to see this shit live.  But...I will let it go.

I want to see this shit live. But...I will let it go.

Then I thought about it.  This was what life was like not all that long ago.  If you missed something, that was it.  So, the digital immigrant in me is going to remember this moment.  I should be thankful for the wealth of information and entertainment at my fingerprints 24/7 and let the real fans who trudged out to San Diego to see this shit enjoy the exclusive nature of their geek-out.  I should remember the Dark Ages that were most of my life and appreciate how good I have it now.  Suck it, trolls!

The Best

In Movies on July 28, 2009 at 9:51 pm

I was checking out the Watch Now section of Netflix looking for something to amuse me while I dicked around on the internet.  So, I crossed paths with one of those shittiest 80’s movies from my memory.  One that I remember as being utterly ridiculous even in that simpler time when I was a very young man.  A man far too young to be seeing such a gratuitous display of shootings and boobs, by the way.  That film is Tango and Cash.

Now I am not going to spend much time talking about that film starring Sly Stallone, Kurt Russell, and Kurt Russell’s mullet.  I just want to concentrate on the one aspect I find most amusing.  In the film, it is known that these two cops are the BEST cops in the city.  They even exchange such lines as “I know you.  I heard your the second best cop in the city.”  They are SO good, that Jack Palance’s druglord characters spends time creating the most elaborate frame-up ever to take destroy these cops.  Not a mayor or DA, but two detectives.  Somehow, these two individual police officers are so effective at being awesome cops that they, alone, are costing this villain millions.

Felix Unger Tango.  Meet Oscar Madison Cash.  Are you guys good?  No, no, no, no, no.  The MOTHERFUCKING BEST!!!

Felix Unger Tango. Meet Oscar Madison Cash. Are you guys good? No, no, no, no, no. The MOTHERFUCKING BEST!!!

Here is the point of my comment.  Who ranks fucking cops?  I mean, do you know the name of one cop in your town or city that you are not related to, friends with, or implicated in a serious crime.  Do you keep track of cop rankings?  Do you think cops spend time or energy trying to get to the top of the cop ranking ladder.  Are there multiple cop seeding organizations like in NCAA football?  Like a Captain’s Poll versus the Internal Affairs poll?

This leads me to another shitty movie, a little later in time.  The Stallone/Banderas vehicle known as Assassins.  In this movie, we see Banderas’ psychotic assassin character trying to bump off Stallone’s retired assassin character.  Why?  Because he wants to be #1.  He uses the terms “#1” and “#2” throughout the movie.  Again, is there really a ranking system so strict that an assassin feels the need to pull another assassin out of retirement so he can beat him in assassination?  Does killing a master assassin automatically make you a better assassin?  I have a problem with this inherently, because being a good assassin doesn’t automatically make you good at not being assassinated, but that’s neither here nor there.

Which led me to a point that my friend Fonz Cardenas brought up years ago.  The majority of Michael Bay/Jerry Bruckheimer films deal with this idea of needing “the best.”  Bad Boys was like Tango and Cash all over again.  Armageddon needed the best drillers in the world to drill the asteroid flying towards Earth.  The best drillers?  How the fuck do you go about finding them?  Gone in 60 Seconds?  The best car thief.  The Rock? Best prison escapist.  And on, and on, and on.

So, what’s my point?  Nothing really.  I just find the idiocy of this kind of thing pretty amusing.

Monday’s “That Guy:” Dylan Baker

In Movies, That Guys on July 27, 2009 at 10:54 pm

When looking for potential “that guys,” I recommend watching any hour-long police procedurals, especially something from the Law & Order family.  Watching Criminal Intent last night brought me into contact, for the millionth time, with Mr. Dylan Baker.  Baker plays squares with an almost uncanny ability.  There is nothing cool, at all, about this man.  Here, take a look:

dylan baker

Baker has been on many, many TV shows.  If it begins with Law, ends with Order, or is an acronym for anything, Baker has probably appeared on, probably more than once, probably as several different characters on the same franchise, and has never been anything but a dork, dweeb, or nerd.  He has it down pretty amazingly.  The interesting thing about his work, however, is that he also never seems dumb.  On the contrary, he usually conveys a sense of keen intelligence, which he often calls upon to create an effective sense of malevolence when he’s playing a heel.  Looking at his cheesy grill, it would be easy to underestimate his characters, but his aura of confident competence demonstrates that this would be a mistake.  Lets take a look at some roles.

Well, he has played Dr. Curt Connors in the last couple Spider-man movies, a character that comic fans know becomes the Lizard at some point.  I’m sure you’re all wondering when, or if, that will happen in the franchise.  A perfect example of a nerdy egghead capable of some freaky shit.  He pulled off playing Robert McNamara in Thirteen Days, again playing very much in his wheelhouse.  Again in Kinsey. Hell, I didn’t even see Revolutionary Road but I can already imagine the straight-laced, uptight character he must play.  He’s that perfect for that kind of role.  Even as the creepy royal brother-in-law on the short-lived NBC flop Kings, he was pitch-perfect playing the role he does better than anyone.  I could go on but what’s the point?  He’s in tons of shit.  You see him everywhere.  He often plays the same type of dude.

Well, yeah, usually.  Except for this little role in Planes, Trains and Automobiles, which he is basically unrecognizable and completely outside of his later comfort zone.  So, I stand corrected.

Dylan Baker is the guy you know, the guy you know you know from everywhere, but might have trouble putting your finger on it.  You will never have that problem again, as you can confidently say: “Hey, it’s that guy from the Daily Scott Brown!”  You’re welcome.

Rifle Butts

In Movies on July 25, 2009 at 11:42 pm

I enjoy action movies but I am hardly a master of combat, fighting techniques, or the effect of violence on the human body.  I feel like I always qualify my posts with my ignorance but it makes me feel more comfortable as I proceed.  So, I want to explore the unique quality of the stock or butt of any rifle, shotgun, or really any long firearm in the movies.  What quality is that?  Well, it’s the fact that being hit in the face with a rifle is an automatic knockout, no matter what.  It has become the stock manner (oh, Scott.  Your puns are amazing) for disabling a character so they can be taken prisoner or tied up in the next scene.  I don’t care if that character is fine after being clocked by a baseball bat, thrown off a roof, or being run over by a car, the rifle butt will always lead to a K.O.

Need an example?  I’ll give you a few.  In Commando, Arnold’s character John Matrix drives a car down the side of a mountain crashing into another car at full speed. He jumps out, beats up a few guys, then gets knocked down.  He’s still got some fight in him until someone, you guessed it, hits him in the face with an assault rifle butt.  Then lights out until the plot needs for him to wake up.  How about another.  In Running Man, Arnold’s character Ben Richards is knocked out when he refuses to kill civilians.  Guess how?  I have just selected two off the the top of my head involving Schwarzeneggar alone.

You will see it everywhere.  I saw it on an episode of Supernatural yesterday when Sam needs to knock out Bobby.  Boom, peace of cake.  My favorite example, however, comes from Terminator Salvation this summer.  Marcus Wright steps on a landmine and is damaged.  It is then that he is discovered to be a cyclon or whatever.  Sorry about the spoilers but its in the trailer so deal with it.  Anyway, his skull is made of some titanium alloy.  His brain is actually an armored neural net processor that other Terminator films have shown to be nigh-invincible.  So how does the character played by Common pacify this robotic threat.  A fucking butt to the face!  This of course, knocks out a fucking robot!  Even machines are not immune to the power of the shotgun butt.

If he wanted to threaten a ruthless killing machine, he should be pointing the other end of the weapon at it.

If he wanted to threaten a ruthless killing machine, he should be pointing the other end of the weapon at it.

So, am I saying that rifle butts cannot knock someone out?  Nope, not at all.  Platoon has disgustingly shown what a rifle butt can do to someone’s head.  I’m just sick of the cliche of the smash to the face as an instant scene-ender; usually from from a cheesy shot from the POV of the smashee.  Also, I’m sick of how the character is usually fine soon after or even by the next scene.  How come head trauma is no big deal in the movies?  Just once, I’d like to see the rifle smash followed by a guy saying “Oh, fuck!  That fucking hurt.  You just shattered my cheekbone and eye socket, you fucking fuck!”

Free Games

In Video Games on July 24, 2009 at 12:34 am

So I quit WoW today.  Well, not really quit, but decided not to renew my subscription.  I haven’t been really into it for a while, it costs $15 a month, and I know I won’t have time for it in the coming months.  I know it’s always there for me to go back to, as it has in the past, and that is a comfort.  So, with all this new free time, what do I do?  Study for my certification exam?  Read a good book?  Hang out with my wife?  Actually…yes.  WoW, for all its exceptional qualities, is an epic time killer.  So, I have enjoyed the opportunity to get some important parts of my life back.  I also, however, have taken this opportunity to try some free online games I have read about.

Keeping track of all this nonsense is some of the most compelling fun you can have at work.

Keeping track of all this nonsense is some of the most compelling fun you can have at work.

In video games, especially MMOs, you tend to get what you pay for.  Most free-to-play MMOs are based on a Korean-based system.  Commonly, these games are free but have tons of micro-transactions requiring real money to buy special items for your character.    These games are often thought to be pretty shoddy but I have to tell you, I’ve been having a pretty good time with them.

The one I started is called Evony.  You may have seen some online advertisements for it featuring a woman showing off ridiculous cleavage.  I guess I was eventually hypnotized by these digital mammaries because I looked into the game.  I guess showing big boobs works, which I have to admit to my udder (Excellent pun, Scott.  Why thank you, Scott) shame.  Anyway, the game features no hot women that I can see.  It’s kind of like a medieval multi-player Sim City combined with Civilization, with different players developing a town, building defenses, and eventually conquering others around you.  The game takes place on a sloooow scale, with some moves taking hours to make.  The game runs in real time, so you are collecting taxes, mining, and chopping wood even when you are not around.  It’s the kind of game you can check on every once in a while to see how you’re doing, make a minor change, then go on about your day.  Since it can be played in any browser anywhere, it is a perfect job game.  I’ve been playing a few days and I am pretty addicted to it.  Check it out.

Another one I tried tonight is called Wizard 101. This is a very kid-friendly MMO about playing a fledgling wizard’s apprentice trying to become a master. It’s art style is colorful, simple, and pretty charming, in a cutesy anime way.  You cast spells using a CCG-like card system, summong monsters, buffs,de-buffs and so on as you duel monsters in a turn-based system.  I didn’t think I would like it, until I ended up playing for a couple hours that just flew by.  It has an easy, intuitive interface that was very compelling change of pace.  Again, not for everyone but worth checking out, for sure.

Yes, they are disgustingly adorable.  I can feel my precious Y-chromosome shriveling away.

Yes, they are disgustingly adorable. I can feel my precious Y-chromosome shriveling away.

So, I think I will continue trying these free games.  I may tire of them quickly, but for now, its a nice way to relax with something new.

Sam Raimi, can you work a miracle?

In Movies, Video Games on July 22, 2009 at 11:55 pm

For my very first blog post, I wrote about the inappropriate nature of World of Warcraft as a movie.  Well, today I read that Sam Raimi was going to be helming the WoW movie, pulling it out of the deep tar pit of developmental hell I assumed it was in.  As I have written in the past, I don’t think that this game is really an inspiring start for an original or compelling story.  Not just that, how can a faithful visual representation of such a stylized, cartoony art style be translated to a live-action film?

Despite my many reservations, I think Raimi might be the best choice I could imagine.  He has proven an able director for a combination of different elements essential for this kind of movie to work.  First of all, his work in the Spider-man franchise has demonstrated he can do high-flying action.  He can create a stylized feel to his films, such as in Darkman, which is really a pretty insane piece of cinema almost twenty years later.  Give me the fucking elephant, indeed.  So as a fun action movie, WoW the movie has potential.

This movie might just be worth it for the inevitable Bruce Campbell cameo.  Who wouldn't die for a good "boomstick" reference?

This movie might just be worth it for the inevitable Bruce Campbell cameo. Who wouldn't die for a good "boomstick" reference?

Raimi can produce emotion from unlikely sources, as well.  The Spidey flicks had some decent emotional moments and decent character development for a movie about dudes in latex or wearing octopus arms.  I can’t easily imagine a touching moment involving a hot lady with giant ears, glowing eyes, and long-ass eyebrows, but if anyone could make me imagine it, it might be Raimi.

Most importantly, Raimi can make a movie that laughs at itself and doesn’t take itself too seriously without devolving into strict parody.  The Evil Dead movies, especially the first two, are good at creating satirical stabs at horror movies while also existing as solid scary flicks in their own right.  In a WoW movie, balancing the cool with the ridiculous is a challenging feat.

So, do I think this WoW movie will be good?  Fuck, no!  I still can’t imagine it being anything but a disastrous train wreck that somehow turns into a zeppelin catastrophe that somehow sparks the Apocalypse.  Yet, with Raimi’s involvement, I am at least very curious.  I am willing to be proven wrong.  Hell, I hope to be.  Only time will tell.

Geek media referencing geek media

In Television on July 21, 2009 at 10:51 pm

My wife and I have started watching Supernatural. Since I never watched this show before or really hung out with anyone who did, I’m not sure how this show is received by the geek community at large.  For those who don’t know, it’s about a pair of brothers hunting monsters and demons to avenge their family and stop the end of the world.  I like it and find it to be a pretty solid show with well-developed characters and strong plotting.  It gets a little repetitive sometimes with the constant “I have to save my brother” deal, but I am very entertained by it.

I could go on and on about its treatment of common monsters, its slow-burning main story, and other such topics, but I’d rather concentrate on something I especially appreciate with this show.   That is, the characters reference the mainstream media surrounding the supernatural world they live in.  They live in a world where monsters from the movies are real, but they acknowledge it.  While a small detail, it creates an extra dose of realism to an otherwise…well, supernatural setting.  It grounds it enough to make this wacky world relatable.

Yeah, I know, I know.  Dramatic shot of hunky WB turned CW dudes.  Laugh it up you sons-of-bitches!

Yeah, I know, I know. Dramatic shot of hunky WB turned CW dudes. Laugh it up you sons-of-bitches!

Want an example of what I mean?  In one episode, one of the brothers, Sam, keeps living the same day over and over.  Instead of saying “Woh, I live the same day everyday,” he says something along the lines of “It’s just like Groundhog Day.”  When a string of monster attacks from an eastern-European vampire, a wolfman, and mummy occur within days of each other, it turns out to be a shape-shifter obsessed with old Universal horror movies.  They are occasionally compared to Mulder and Scully, which is funny because it annoys them as characters  despite actually being on a similarly structured sci-fi show.

It’s a nice change of pace compared to so many shows where no one seems to have ever seen a geek show before.  So, I will deal with a little fraternal angst from time to time when I get to enjoy a pretty well-realized world.

Monday’s “That Guy:” William Fichtner

In Movies, That Guys on July 20, 2009 at 11:50 pm

This installment was recommended to me by my friend Michel.  I was hesitant to include him in this feature, however.  Why?  It would seem he fits the criteria for a “that guy.”  Instantly recognizable, apparently in everything, hard to pin-point exactly where you know him from, etc.  Well, my hesitance comes from my familiarity with this actor.  When he was suggested, he was presented as the Amway-knock-off selling cop from the film Go, if I recall correctly.  My first response was: “Oh, William Fichtner.  He’s too famous.”  I thought he was a household name.  I guess I was wrong.

On top of his many talents, I have a special place in my heart for all guys whose hairlines start that far back.  God bless you, William Fichtner.

On top of his many talents, I have a special place in my heart for all guys whose hairlines start that far back. God bless you, William Fichtner.

So, anyway, where to begin.  I do remember William Fichtner from Go, the seemingly gay cop whom appears to hit on Jay Mohr throughout the movie until to be revealed as something else entirely.  He was also a blind astronomer in Contact, able to recognize James Woods’ character by smell.  He was the launderer/snitch Van Zant in Heat, the tough-guy sword fisherman in The Perfect Storm, a Ranger officer in Blackhawk Down, and a mob bank manager in The Dark Knight.  What do all these roles have in common?  Very little, really.  Fichtner has incredible range.  This is a rare gift in a “that guy.”  He can be strong or weak, mean or kind, smart or dumb.  Despite his unusual facial features and recognizability, he can alter how he uses it to change how you feel about him.  He can be the charismatic leader of the resistance in Equilibrium or the terrifying sheriff turned alien on the short-lived sci-fi show Invasion. He is an excellent actor and I am happy to see him whenever he appears on screen, which is very often.

So, thanks Michel.  This “that guy” has actually been one of my favorites because of my familiarity with so much his work.  If he isn’t too famous for this feature, I’d like to live in a world where he is.  He should be.

District 9

In Movies on July 19, 2009 at 10:25 pm

I’m pretty excited by this newest trailer for District 9.  Not that I wasn’t interested before, mind you, but I’m seeing this pretty interesting things cropping up in it.  I know some of you are attempting to limit their early exposure to this movie, so I will not be addressing specific elements of the trailer.  I just want to discuss this big geek movie that seems to be sneaking up on us.  In less than a month, we have a movie about aliens on earth that appears to also be a parable of sorts about discrimination and the politics of fear.  The latest trailer creates the impression that the film will be pretty actiony, as well.  I wish I could delve into it more, but I fear offending those on media blackout on this.

Man, look how cute these simplified alien symbols look.  Who would want to restrict something so adorable?

Man, look how cute these simplified alien symbols look. Who would want to restrict something so adorable?

The most funny thing about this film is how I missed that this was what Peter Jackson decided to do with his work on the Halo movie.  A few years back, Peter Jackson and his Weta team were working on a Halo adaptation for the big screen.  That project fell apart and it seemed to be over, much to the dismay of fanboys everywhere.  After watching what I have been watching on this new flick, I can see definite Halo influences  and I wonder how I missed it before.  I am 100% more interested in this new movie than I was about the lackluster story of Master Chef fighting a million zillion aliens.  I am relieved that we get District 9 versus another most-likely craptacular video game movie.

Don't worry Mr. Elite.  You'll have a very nice home in the shantytown slums of District 9.

Don't worry Mr. Elite. You'll have a very nice home in the shantytown slums of District 9.

What do you people think about what has the potential to be the best geek movie of the summer?  Please use spoiler alerts if you want to discuss  trailer elements.  I know I want to talk about <SPOILER> mech armor.  <END SPOILER>