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

Archive for June, 2010|Monthly archive page

Puny Humans

In Science Fiction on June 30, 2010 at 12:43 am

I always feel bad for humanity in science fiction. Most of the time, they are significantly dumber than other, comparable, humanoid aliens. Almost all the time, they are considerably weaker, too. Vulcans and those newcomers from Alien Nation…those guys make us look like such losers.

And how do we poor man-animals hang in there. Well, we tend to display some resourcefulness, some chutzpah. Either we show some kind of crazy ambition or we breed like rabbits compared to these nearly asexual space creatures or something. And I get it. Humans are easy to figure as the baseline for competence, and creatures from space would clearly be more competent, more advanced, more powerful, etc.

And I have no problem with aliens being smarter than us. I mean, they may have mastered inter-dimensional warp drives or faster-than-light tachyon engines or whatever, so sure, I can concede the aliens being super-advanced. But I would like, occasionally, to see a change in the physical inferiority.

I mean, wouldn’t be awesome if humans, by complete chance, are the biggest bad-asses in the universe. Like, our gravity is stronger than most alien worlds. Or maybe our perception of time is far faster than others, or our reactions are ultra-fast in comparison.

In some universe, this might be the scariest thing to walk into a galactic cantina.

I like to think that humans might be the Wookies or the Gammoreans of the universe. Maybe not the brightest or most inventive, but the greatest mercenaries or bodyguards in the ‘Verse. How come it never works like this?

Tony Jaa = Amazing

In Movies on June 25, 2010 at 1:04 am

Yeah, I know. What an insightful comment. I’m sure international action sensation Tony Jaa can finally firmly place his final feather in his cap by winning my hard-earned approval. For those of you who don’t know, Tony Jaa is the highly acrobatic and athletic action star from Thailand who enjoyed a huge breakout in Ong Bak, a classic story of a country boy going to the city and inevitably crushing skulls with flying elbows and knees.

The thing with Ong Bak, however, was that I was really not instantly captivated by Jaa on-screen persona. I found he lacked the natural charisma and badassity that many other action stars effortlessly possess. He lacked a certain swagger or magnetism, I suppose, that I was hoping to see after hearing all the hype about this guy. You can guess what he did have, however. Yes, he has maybe the most jaw-dropping action-movie fighting ability and stunt-agility I have ever witnessed. I mean, simply spellbinding.

You see, back when I was in high school, one of my best friends got REALLY into Hong Kong martial arts. Huge into it. So big that he went into film school to be in the business of making cinematic action and honed himself into a stunt performer. So, thanks to hanging out with him, I was exposed to some pretty great stuff well before most people I knew. Jackie Chan, Samo Hung, and Jet Li were very well known to me before they had American releases, though compared to international fanship, I was late to the game. During that time, I accumulated a pretty discerning amateur appreciation for the joy of fight choreography, direction, and performance. That was when my eyes really opened about what action could be like at a time when people were still being impressed with slow-mo, Van Damme split kicks. I felt like I was watching something unbelievable; something otherworldly.

The other night, I was started watching Ong Bak 2 on Netflix and I got that feeling all over again. Like the first one, this, movie didn’t do much for me in terms of pacing, acting, or plot. But the fighting…oh the fighting. The last 25 minutes of this film are otherworldly, with specific sequences being so sublime that I felt myself grinning giddily. The combination of grittiness and artistry, strength and creativity…it’s really something.

So, since it’s on Netflix Watch Instantly, do yourself a favor and watch those fight scenes.

Mass Effect…again

In Video Games on June 23, 2010 at 11:44 pm

I like explaining my potentially pathological tendencies. If I write them down, it makes me feel like a)Maybe they’re not that weird or b)At least I am being honest with my self-expression and providing a warning for those around me. In this case, I am referring to my need to play and then replay and then maybe replay again most video role-playing games that I finish. This manifests itself in a few ways.

1) I restart the game, even after having spent dozens or more hours, before finishing it. Often RPGs have a steep learning curve. You might think that a skill would be useful at first level, but proves itself to be worthless during the course of the game. Then you see the crappy skill and the resources you applied to it staring you in the face every time you go to the character sheet. Maybe you made a story decision you made and realize you have to continually live with it down the road. Maybe you…wait, why am I saying you? I’m the only one who does this stupid shit. But yes, I often am unable to finish a game the first time through and find myself restarting all the time before I finish.

2) Right after I finish the game, I go right back and start it again. Some games, like Mass Effect and Mass Effect 2 allow you use your now advanced character from the start and even accumulate more experience, better items, etc. Any game that allows me more opportunity to obsessively power-up my character will be one I play again and again. Even if I can’t carry over my character to a new game, I’ll still usually restart an RPG right away. You might then think, “Oh, well you probably want to try a different kind of character or make different decisions. Yes, I will do this sometimes (like in the recently played Alpha Protocol) but more often, I will play it the same way, making similar decisions and developing my character in the same method. Why? I think I am always trying to get it right; to make this run-through perfect.

Why do you do this to me? Why can't you leave me alone? Who am I kidding? I can't stay mad at you.

And these ideas bring to me Mass Effect again. I want to enjoy Mass Effect 2 but the game allows you to transfer over a character from the first one. So, yes. that means I am playing Mass Effect again, then probably playing it again with the same character again to max his level, so I can transfer this character to the sequel, the game really want to play in the first place. This will take probably days, if not weeks, of real time commitment. Not calendar days; actual blocks of 24 hours. And what do I get from this? You might think nothing and it would be hard to argue that point, but I look forward to very little more than doing this. That’s what I’m off to do right now.

Please tell me someone else can relate.

“The class is Pain 101. Your instructor is Casey Jones.”

In Movies on June 22, 2010 at 11:20 pm

There is a class of movies that exist that I have seen dozens of times. They are maybe not the best films. Hell, they may be plain godawful. But they were always on or you would never switch from them once you stumbled upon them on cable. For whatever reason, I’m sure everyone has a movie that they or their friends know line-for-line, whether they ever intended to or not. I want to start exploring some of these movies, such as I did for Commando, to maybe better understand what makes these movies endure in my memory. Or at least to express some the utterly stupid random nonsense that goes through my head as I go to sleep. The movie I want to write about is the 1990 movie, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

This movie came along at an odd time for me. At the age of twelve, I was at an odd precipice in terms of development and this movie stands as a weird symbol of that transition. Through my reading of my brothers black-and-white TMNT comics, I already thought of myself as more advanced than the average consumer. I knew that the turtles should all be wearing red masks. I knew that they were actually brutal killers, employing lethal force in combat with the hated Foot. There were no robotic clan soldiers, no incompetent mutated warthog punks, and no Krang (though we did have some pretty similar T.C.R.I. aliens). I had experienced the darker, “cooler” Turtles and I had little time for the sanitized, kiddy cartoon fiction. Then this movie comes out and it’s a weird mixed bag of Turtles material. Sure, it’s still pretty tame compared to the comic, but at least it had human Foot Clan members, a Shredder not played for comic relief, and some actual story elements taken from the Eastman and Laird comics, While not a great film or even particularly loved film, I have seen it many, many times. I’m not sure why, or even how. But I feel like making some random observations about it.

1) For some reason, it’s all about Raphael. Yes, while Leonardo was previously portrayed as the level-headed leader of our heroes, the usually “cool, but rude” Raph takes center stage in this movie. Never understood that random decision to this day.

2) Corey Feldman was the voice of Donatello. This was a big deal at the time.

3) Sam Rockwell enters my consciousness. Years later, whenever I saw Sam Rockwell, I always felt he looked strangely familiar. Until the day I had my “Eureka!” moment and realized that SR was no one other than the charismatic street punk working for the Foot Clan.

4) The fact that giant anthropomorphic turtles can navigate through normal society by wearing trenchcoats and fedoras. I had a friend who attempted to wear a fedora to high school one day in an attempt to bring back a more elegant style. He was so thoroughly harassed he never attempted it again. If my friend couldn’t avoid detection with this look, how can a giant amphibian pull it off. Throughout the movie, whether its purchasing a pizza through the sewer or escaping NYC in a un-tinted windowed van, the Turtles take a supremely cavalier attitude towards detection. Yet, maybe it’s a testament to how “crazy” New York used to be that Elias Koteas’ Casey Jones character, upon getting a good look at Raphael for the first time asks something along the lines of: “Are you some kind of punker?” Yeah, he was clearly cognizant of the obscure Bogey shellcore scene of the late 80’s.

You know what might improve this clever disguise? You guessed it. Pants!

5) Strangely homicidal ending. This film remains pretty light throughout. It does have a weirdly violent ending. After our heroes finally best the evil Shredder and cast him unconsciously into the back of a garbage truck, Casey Jones murders him by casting an “aint I a stinker” expression and saying “whoops” as he activates the crushing mechanism. Then we proceed to see a remarkably bloodless suit of Shredder armor get pulverized. I’m glad murder comes so easily to you.

I could do this all night…except I can’t. So, while I have more to say on this subject, let’s leave it at this for now.

Can we take Captain America seriously?

In Comics on June 22, 2010 at 12:29 am

Oooh, a contentious question, I can tell. This is because Cap holds a strange and unexpected place in many people’s hearts that non-comic fans would not expect. I mean, to an outside observer, only the most jingoistic, mindless Americo-sycophant would think that wearing the American flag (complete with eagle-wing ears) would be a cool move. And here we have Captain America: a statuesque, blond-haired, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon demigod who quite possibly beat the Nazis by shaming them with his Aryanism. This guy is supposed to be enjoyed as a representative of all that is good with this nation; a beloved icon of liberty and justice.

The thing is…he kinda is. I mean, I’m sure there a tons of people who reads comics and have no time for Cap. Yet, I know tons of Marvel fans, conservative and liberal both, who think Steve Rogers, like Ferris Bueller, is a righteous dude. Sure, he might wear wear a star on his chest, some stripes on his ribcage, and an “A” on his forehead. That doesn’t mean he’s a government stooge willing to follow the unjust orders of a corrupt oligarchy. Cap embodies the ideals of the nation; not as they have ever existed in reality but how they SHOULD exist.

Awesome..or ridiculous? The answer, much like what Champion says, is YES!!!

But that kind of brings us to the point of this post. Captain America, as often portrayed, is a little too good to be true. So, with this new movie on the horizon, are we as an audience going to be able to buy into this. Will he seem utterly outrageous to the non-comic public? Will he secretly make his actual fans (myself included) feel a little, or more than a little, silly.

Before you say, “Man, c’mon. It’s Cap! Of course he’s great!,” just consider what a man says when he wears a nation, any nation, as his identity. This isn’t a soldier with a flag patch on his arm or a Marine raising a flag on a hard fought hill in the Pacific. This is a dude with red go-go boots and a giant round throwing shield. And did I mention the head-wings.

P.S. If burning a flag is disrespectful, how about intentionally having one get shot, throwing it around, then riding one like a sled?

The transfer of consciousness. Sound boring enough?

In Science Fiction on June 18, 2010 at 12:24 am

It turns out it’s kinda tricky to continually maintain a blog on a daily basis. It’s also easier to perform this task when you are a full-time student verus having a job with a daily four hour round-trip commute. Now, I know these things, as my accurately named blog has turned into an ironically named one. Something is certainly not daily if it is updated once every few months. So, again I am trying to get back on the horse and trying to write something on a more-or-less daily basis. We’ll see how it goes.

So, what to write about? My obsession with Red Dead Redemption or Alpha Protocol? My love affair with Justified? My interest in the HBO version of Game of Thrones or my nitpicks with the pilot of Rubicon? Maybe my thoughts on the upcoming Thor movie or the casting of Captain America? Where to begin?
Let’s start with an interesting conversation I had today. It was about the nature of consciousness and the idea of transferring one’s mind into a purely digital medium. I mean, it’s a pretty popular sci-fi concept, be it Tad William’s Otherland, the show Caprica, or the ridiculous Schwarzenegger flick, The 6th Day, the idea of downloading your entire’s life experience into a digital form has been explored at length in science fiction.
The weird thing for me, however, is the idea that this is often synonymous with being immortal. That the preservation of your memories, thoughts, and feelings means that even if your mortal form were to fade away, the essence of what makes you you would live on forever. And in a sense, this is true. Everyone you interact with would most likely feel like you were still you. Couple this with crazy cloning technology, and you could imagine downloading your consciousness into a new exact replica of yourself, in essence making a brand new you.

But, it wouldn’t really be you, would it? I don’t even mean that in a metaphysical, “do clones have souls?” kinda way. I mean, even if there was a perfect replica of your mind created, you wouldn’t be the one thinking with it. It would be something that thought just like you, remembered everything you did, and might even think it was you, but it would be a new consciousness. You, however, would be gone. Creepy right? You can reproduce the data, but not the consciousness.

So, wait. Is he Hauser or is he Quaid?

On the other hand, what is consciousness? If the brain is just a storage unit for the collection of data; a organic supercomputer, then wouldn’t the preservation of the data be a preservation of what makes a person who they are. Is consciousness or identity just an illusion? I’ve kinda gone back and forth on this subject since I started writing this post. Explains why it’s such good sci-fi fodder.

What say you all?