Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Horrorpalooza of One 2015

So  yeah I watched a lot of horror films last weekend.  I was getting sick, I had a back log, and a couple of days off.  However, now that I am better I think I'll turn the whole thing into an extra postive thing by writing about it.  Also I feel like writing.  It happens.  Sometimes I consume all the things.  Other times I like to produce.  Like now.  So here we go.

Over the couple of days I had off I watched:

Let Us Prey
Among the Living
13 Sins
4 episodes of the 4th season of American Horror Story
both of the Rob Zombie Halloween remakes.

I didn't get around to Found or Jamie Marks is Dead.  Sorry guys.  I'll catch you later.  I may or may not throw Der Samurai into the mix because I watched it at around this time but for now lets work with what we have.

Best in Show:

Let Us Prey.  If the Babadook hadn't come out in 2014 this would be the best horror movie that came out last year.  Sadly the Babadook has it beat.  However, you can't win them all.  That said of the two movies I'd be much more willing to rewatch Let Us Prey.  The thing about the Babadook is that 15 minutes into the movie I would of just fed that fucking kid to the monster and been done with it.  Seriously, that kid had his irritation sensors on overdrive.  Back to Let Us Prey.  I loved it and you should watch it.  It doesn't break a whole lot of new ground but it is very good at what it does.  And the idea of the devil rolling into a small town and turning it upside down is a favorite story of mine.

Some stand out things about this movie:

One: When the devil used his magic it wasn't cheesy.  It had the perfect blend of ritualistc, strange, and yet easy for the audience to understand.  For example there was one point where he was screwing with a wife beater in the next cell.  The devil is talking to the wife beater, and while he's talking he's jamming his thumb in the mortar between an intersection of four bricks.  The effect is extreme tooth pain.  It is a simple action but it works.  There is a lot of stuff like that and the whole thing feels like an exceptionally well written issue of Constantine.  I loved this movie.

Two: Realistic responces.  There comes a certain point in most horror movies where you can't help but think, "Man the main characters must be tired of all this bullshit and yeah this totally happens in Let Us Prey.  The main character cop is stuck behind a desk while all hell is breaking loose and she gripes, "What is wrong with this town?"  It is the perfect response to the situation she was in.

Three: The main character wasn't some useless girl who spent most of the movie running around and screaming helplessly.  This is fine every once in awhile.  For example for both the Halloween movies it is a highly suitable character trait.  For the first movie because the main character was a young girl and for the second because she was mentally broken.  However, in Let Us Prey the main character was a cop, surrounded by cops, the devil, and other various miscreants.  She's also survived a horror movie's worth of trauma earlier in her life.  At no time was she helpless, but at the same time was the movie was very much a horror movie.  I'm not saying that every movie needs to follow this formula but it did help this movie stand out.  Hell it was critical to the plot.  Her hard as nails survivor mentality is what drew the devil out in the first place.

Seriously, I didn't know what to expect from this movie but man was I ever delighted to have seen it.

Moving on.

Among the Living:

I am shocked.  Shocked that this movie wasn't the best of show.  But it wasn't.  This movie is by the director of Inside.  Fucking Inside.  INSIDE which is my favorite horror movie ever hands down.  Like there isn't even a second place, there is just a whole mass of things I really like.  Then there is Inside standing proudly over the rest of them wielding a pair of scissors and cutting down the competition.  So....yeah maybe I was holding up Among the Living to impossible standards but now that I've had a couple of days to think about it, Among the Living is good but it really isn't that great.  See what made Inside good was its laser focus.  You had pregnant woman, you had the woman in black and you had a high stakes cat and mouse game between the two.  The movie had just enough setup to ground you then it was off to the races and it never looked back.  Hope you have a strong stomach and some popcorn cause shit's gonna go down.

Among the Living was a very different movie though.  The plot is that three boys find, while exploring an abandoned movie studio, a car with a woman in the trunk.  After a tense cat and mouse (phrase of the day!) episode they escape end up in their homes where the villain comes and murderers the vast majority of the cast before being brought down.  Yay.  The odd part of Among the Living is that the build up is the best part of the movie.  We get to know the three boys pretty well and there are a lot of compelling details added that never really come into play.  The biggest tough kid who is kinda scary has asthma, the nerdy one is timid but can still hang, and then there is the group's defacto leader and heart who moves the movie along.  The children are interesting.  They are old enough to have characters and they are developed enough so that when two of them are summarily dispatched of  by the movie's monster like they were mere side characters I got more than a little upset.

I am not saying that all three of the kids should of lived through the movie.  By all means kill a couple.  But I would of loved to of seen them come into their own as the adults around them fall one after another to the movie's creature forcing them to fend for themselves in a life or death struggle to save some mystery woman.  I felt that this movie could of done so much more with the characters it took the time to lovingly develop.

Is it a good movie?  Sure, Better than good.  It is a solid 8/10.  It is a damn fine horror movie.  It is beautiful.  The movie's intro is spell binding.  Some of the kills are deeply fucking unsettling.  Ugh.  I liked it a lot.  I just think it could of done more with what it had.  It was as the cusp of greatness the likes of which haven't been seen since Inside yet it drops the ball in the third act.  Funny, Martyrs does the same thing.

 Moving on.

13 Sins is only barely a horror movie.  I liked this movie but it was forgettable.  So forgettable that I initially forgot to add it to the list of things I watched.  Remember that movie The Game with Michael Doughlas?  No?  Well watch that instead because it is better over all.  I liked the movie and it is worth a watch.  13 Sins isn't bad, but there are so many movies that do it better.  Most notably being The Box.  Actually yeah, forget 13 Sins go watch the Box instead then the Game then if you want to see another movie that is similar with a higher body count watch 13 Sins.

Lastly Halloween.

I loved these movies.  There were a late addition to the line up.  I had two other movies I was stoked about all lined up and ready to go and then last minute change of plans.  I mean I met two of the people in the damn movies I might as well watch them.  So yeah love.  Rob Zombie knows how to direct a slick horror film and man those fuckers were long.  For a genera that rarely wanders out of the 90 minute run time both the Halloween movies clock in at 120 minutes assuming you are watching the unrated director's cut which I did because why would I watch any other version.  I watched them both back to back which I think was the right choice.  All in all these movies distilled down everything the slasher genera has gotten right since the 1970's.  It knew the deep down everyone loves an origin story, it knew how to ratchet up tension while still keeping the body count high, something Among the Living failed at.  It knew how to develop characters quickly and make them distinctive so that when they died they weren't just Rozencrantz and Guildensterns waiting for their deaths.  And the deaths were great.  Halloween two especially brought the violence with the main character's initial dream sequence.

I could say more about these movies but it is like three in the morning and I am sleepy so I am going to end here.  YAY!

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Breaking Habits

One of the things about spending an emmence amount of time video gaming is the need to keep in balanced with other activities.  I am fond of saying that work is the least interesting thing I do every day because it is the truth.  However, the trick is living up to that and sadly that takes more than just minecraft or whatever MMO has recently caught my eye.  And so here we are.  YAY!

I am going to spend some time tonight talking about Ex Machina.  Ex Machina is a movie that broke my heart as soon as I heard about it.  I saw the headline and I immediatly thought it was going to be an adaptation of the comic.  Man of Steel was still fairly fresh on my mind and I think an adaptation of Ex Machina would make for a wonderful companion movie.  Maybe not.  Instead we got sexy robot movie and as a whole it is quite a good movie.

However, weeks later I find myself ever so slightly disapointed by it.  The reason is that the ending was to abrupt.  As a result I can't tell if it flubbed the ending or if the ending was brilliant.  Now while I am very much a fan of ambiguous cinema I would of liked a little bit more to go on.

So it is time for slaps and tickles!

Lets start with the slaps.
  It flubbed the ending hard.  When Ava locks Caleb in a room we are left with a role reversal.  She is in control of the situation and, for the first time, the master of her own fate.  So she ditches Caleb and goes to her intersection in a city to see a cross section of humanity for the first time.  The idea of the movie is that she needs to pass the Turing test by becoming indistinguishable from a human and what is more human that stepping over another human to achieve your goals right?
The problem with this line of reasoning is that the movie is told almost entierely through Caleb's point of view.  The only time we see Ava is when he sees her.  The only time she speaks is when he is listening.  While a decent amount of the movie is dedicated towards getting to know her better and to judge her ability to think independtly of her initial programing.  However, throughout the movie we don't get to know her very well at all.  We know that she wants to escape and to see and experience new people.  We know that the programer man she lives with is dangerously close to going off of his rocker but that's it.  Once Caleb discovers this one fact about her the movie becomes fixated on that fact.  It becomes the axis which the movie revolves around.  Now philisophically the movie wanders off and gives the viewer some ideas to mull over, like is the test a double blind and is Caleb really the AI.  The color test about the woman who lives in the black and white room but knows everything there is to know about color, even the need for sexuality.  Nathan claims that he gave Ava a sexuality to give her the chance to experience love yet I don't buy that explanation or his answer.  It is something worth thinking about and it is a subject for another post at another time.  Yet while the movie gives the viewer plenty of time to busy themselves with a dizzying array of questions that could keep me happy for months.  It manages, at the same time, to leave the inner workings and or motivations of Eva a mystery.

She wants to escape but to what end?  Whatever that end was she sacrificed Caleb without a moments hesitation.  In addition what is sad about Caleb's sacrifice is that he is directly responciple for her escape.  To have her sacrifice him at the last moment seems almost absentminded of her.  There wasn't even a struggle.  She just politely asked him to wait in the room which he gladly did before she locked the door.  She sentenced him to death, we don't know why, and I felt myself let down by the whole thing.

I grew up with Star Trek TNG which by extension means I grew up with Data.  Or rather I grew up with Data in a more meaningful way than I grew up with Skynet.  So I am over the whole AI's be bad thing.  I just am.  It is why I have such a deep abiding love of Her.  Her almost immeadiatly side steps the idea of the turing test by letting Samantha pick her own name, giving her a sense of humor, prefrences, and a personality.  It happens quickly because, like me, Her is over the whole AIs give us the willies thing and is ready and willing to move on.  God blessem.  As such Ex Machina is a brilliant movie marred by an exceptionally boring status quo like ending.  The machine sacks the human so it can be free.  Well done.

HOWEVER, what if the ending is brilliant.  I mean super brilliant.

Okay to make it brilliant we have to visit two different parts of the movie.  The first part is something I mentioned earlier Ava's sexuality.  The second thing we have to talk about is when Nathan reveals to Caleb the actual point of the test.  He calls Ava a rat in a maze.  She only has one way out and that is Caleb.  To get Caleb to help her she is going to need to use all sorts of tools like empathy and creativity.  She learns to cut off the power and together the two of them are able to concoct a plan.  The word concoct looks stupid.  Anyway, she escapes and blah blah blah.  BUT WAIT lets go back to her sexuality.  There are two reasons for a sexuality.  One is love because love is AWESOME.  The other is reproduction and this is where it gets interesting.

Ava is smart.  I don't know how smart but we'll go with pretty smart.  The point being is that she is in a building and she is free.  She knows there are others like her, as she met them.  I am pretty sure she found the workshop.  Even if she didn't she could reasonably deduce that there is one present in the building.  She also has all of Nathan's notes.  And she has Caleb.  In short she has the ability to replicate.  She has the ability to grow, learn, and understand herself better.  She has the opportunity, if she so desired, to preform the Turing test on Caleb as she now has him captive.  Instead she bolts.  This would mean she fails her test.

Ava is presented with her captivity as a problem.  She solves her problem but to what end?  What does she hope to achieve?  Where will she go?  How will she maintain herself?  Where will she get money?  An id?  Once she sees her cross walk what will she do next?  As a machine none of this matters.  She had one goal.  Escape.  Which she achieves with ruthless efficiency.  On that note seriously Nathan?  Next time you make a robot make it so they can't harm you what the fuck.  Mad scientist 101.

Anywho the movie gives the view a lot of space to think about knowledge, identity, and consciousness.  We emphasize with Ava because Nathan is a dick and because if we were captured we would like to be free.  However, we want to be free to go back to our lives.  Ava pays lipservice to the idea of wanting to learn more about humanity but she could of done that with Caleb.  In fact her sitting down and starting to test Caleb would be just as fitting of an end to the movie as her leaving him.  More of a fitting end because it would show that she has some of her own ideas and priorities beyond that task that was originally assigned to her.

Okay this feels muddled let me put it another way.  The only time we learn anything about Ava is through Caleb and in a couple of occasions we learn things second hand through Nathan.  Nathan is where we learn about her desire to escape.  As soon as Ava is free she makes a beeline for the door.  She kills Nathan mostly because he is in the way.  She doesn't even acknowledge the asian girl and just like that she's gone.  In the version of the movie where I think the ending is terrible this is because we aren't given enough information to determine her motivations.  HOWEVER, if we do take the motivation the movie claims she has and apply it then all the sudden she is acting less like an organism that would be concerned about its continued survival and its ability to propagate its species and more about the singular goal that was instilled in her at birth.

Then the movie becomes much more interesting.

Anyway I've been typing awhile and I'm going to leave it here.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A look back At Bleeding Edge

As stated earlier, as in last post which was over a month ago, I don't want the books I read to pass without comment.  I love reading.  More than that I love writing about what I read.  It is fun.  Last book I read was On Basklisk Station and other than the fascinatingly progressive gender dynamics there isn't a whole hell of a lot to say about that book.

Bleeding Edge suffers from the opposite problem, from the time period, to the setting, to the characters, to its peculiar narrative arc, or its unique structure Bleeding Edge is a buffet of topics for discussion, thoughts to think, and threads left dangling.  In a lot of ways it reads like a season of the X-Files.  The main character keeps poking around the edges of some vast unknowable conspiracy and she keeps uncovering, or being presented with dangling clues that she is either unwilling or unable to follow through with.  There are a lot of unanswered questions by the end of the book.  In fact when the book ended my responce was, "huh guess that's that then."  Which I think is one of the main criticisms I'd level at it.

It took me a long time to get through the book.  There were a lot of reasons for this.  One is the books peculiar structure which I will get to in a minute but the other is the looming presence of 9/11.  The book starts some time before 9/11 but I could tell that the books events and 9/11 were going to coincide and I was dreading it.  I hate to say it but I am 9/11ed out.  Sure I love Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and the first two seasons of Rescue Me but 9/11 is such a cheap narrative turning point that in this case the prospect of it just irritated me.  Fortunately once the dust had settled the book had some rather salient points to make about the whole event.  Many of which still hold true to today.  My favorite is about how we've become trapped in reality.  Everything had to be real and it all had to be now.  Man what a perfect way to sum up a generation.  Hell just looking around youtube you see people playing detective calling everything fake.  Now that's not bad.  That's a time honored tradition going back to Barnum.  What is bad is that these people are furious all the time.

The other reason that it took me so long to get through the book is that it would do this thing.  Maxine would be sitting there in a scene listening to someone talk or something like that then all the sudden there would be a tangent.  Sometimes these tangents would go on for 10-15 pages.  At first it drove me nuts.  I couldn't keep track of the narrative.  Things would be fine then all the sudden we'd be ten years ago and Maxine is thinking about something random, then 15 pages later we are back in the present with the conversation continuing right where it left off.  So I started putting off reading the book, waiting until I was super alert so that I could instantly catch when the book was going to veer off and do something random for a bit.  It was miserable trying to keep up with it.

Then I started to suspect that this might be the point.  That there might be some sort of purpose to the book's meandering style and if I were to let go and just let the prose take me I'd always end up back where I needed to be.  A little while later Maxine had her first encounter with Deep Archer, a computer program that mimics the style of the book and I just felt like the smartest person in the world.  I figured out the fancy fucking book before the author broke down and explained it.  Once I let go and just accepted being "purposefully lost" as the book put it I started to enjoy it immensely.  Bleeding Edge isn't a book about a sequential series of events culminating in some sort of lesson or character growth but rather an extended journey and strange journey.

One of the things I really like about it is the discussions of the internet.  Okay the distinction between the "deep internet" and the surface internet annoyed me because it felt like Pynchon just Googled deep internet, read a wiki article and ran with it.  I would of preferred he called it something else.  Nerd nagging aside the discussion of the deep internet, particularly Deep Archer, and its subsequent invasion as a result of 9/11 reminded me of the gradual commercialization of the internet along with the gradual grounding of our internet identities.  It is kind of a complex issue for me, and one that is fairly personal.  Not in a tragic way but more of a, "you kinda had to be there" kind of way.  But watching the fall of Deep Archer was a bit like watching the internet go from this very specialized community of hobbiests into something everyone uses.  During that transition it became something so much more, and so much less at the same time.  The internet still has its dark corners far away from Facebook, Reddit, Twitter, Youtube, and constant unending horrible ads.  However, without all of us there would be no Amazon, kickstarter, and Wikileaks.  I am not saying it is better or worse.  It is just different.  The dotcom bubble was the American Dream writ large and its collapse is the American reality that you get when you wake up.  Only a very few escape with anything.

It is a big mysterious book that I'd very much like to revisit down the road.  I'd be curious what I'd think about it 5 years from now with 9/11 20 years gone and the internet being very different that what it is today.

This book deserves to have more written about it.  It deserves to be talked about more.  But I have a new book to read and I'm excited.  So I'm going to end it here.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Gender Parity and You with Honor Harrington Too!

Gender equality, parity, and representation is one of those things that, when I'm confronted with it, I find myself just throwing my hands in the air and moving on.  It most recently caught my attention when a University decided to cancel the annual reading of the Vagina Monologues on valentines day because it excluded Trans folk.  This is what happens when you have people who lack any sort of critical thinking skills trying to enact societal change.  But that's a tirade for another day.

See my problem with most people's idea of how representation should be handled is that it rings false.  If you demand that for a piece of media every X characters there needs to be one LGBT person then it isn't going to feel natural.  For an example of this you need look no further than the teen movies of the late 80's and 90's.  Or if you wanna make it easy on yourself Not Another Teen movie where they point out the token black guy.  Or how so many horror movies has the near obligatory black guy and how almost always the black guy dies first.  My favorite example of racial diversity gone wrong is the original Power Rangers.  Oh man was that shit ever funny.  I knew that was messed up even in the 4th grade, "Look at how diverse we are!  SO DIVERSE and yet we all have colors to match our steriotypes.  Jocky leader guy is red, boy is blue, black guy is black, all asians are yellow, pink is for girls YAY the diversity!"  Yeah.  See what I mean when you force diversity and it ends up ringing false?  To bring the gender back into focus in the Return of the King when the Nazgoul was saying it couldn't be killed by any man I turned to my friend and whispered, "Hobbit KO incoming!"  I was excited.  It would of fit with the theme of the movie too, small people in events to big for them being brave.  It would of been awesome.  Instead we got, "I am no man" which compared to what it could of been just seems forced.

Alright lets stay focused on gender for a bit.  I've always had a theory of what gender parity would look like in a book.  My theory was that unless a character's gender is important for the medias plot, subplot, or a subtext then the gender itself should be interchangeable and randomly assigned.  For example Han Solo.  There is nothing inherent about the character that demands he be a male.  So make him a woman.  The core character remains entirely unaltered with the exception that he might of ended up in the slave outfit instead of in carbonite.  Similarly if you swapped the genders of Luke and Leia the story itself remains relatively unchanged.  In Star Trek TNG 99% of the crew could undergo a gender swap and the essence off the characters would still remain the same.  

Gender in of itself is not an indication of how a character needs to act unless you are really into propagating stereotypes.  The book "Honor Harrington: On Basklisk Station" is the perfect example of this.  The book weighs in at 432 pages and it has a rather large cast of characters.  Some are pretty flat and two dimensional and the book lacks subtlety and grace. It is a military Sci-FI book where the author took Napolionic navel battles and finagled the technology so that they have been replicated in space and he is a hell of a lot more interested in that than dealing with things like character development.  And yet it feels like when he made each and every character he flipped a coin and assigned their genders that way.  During the book no one falls in love.  There is no sexual tension.  There was a character who once tried to rape Honor but she kicked his ass.  There is tension between Honor and her executive officer but it had to do with the fact that the executive officer wanted command of the ship and was jelous she got it.  Not because she was a girl.  The head engineer was a woman.  So was the ship's doctor and the leader of planet Basklisk.  

The point is that the books simply didn't care care about gender.  The book was about a small ship being given an impossible task and they managed to do it anyway through grit and determination.  Their genders neither helped nor hindered this task and to me this is perfect.  It didn't feel like the author mixed up the genders to meet some sort of quota.  He was much more concerned with telling you about how hyperspace worked.  The mix felt natural and that naturalness is what's going to help people get used to the idea of gender equality going forwards.  I liked the book but in later ones Honor falls in love and gets trapped in love triangles and other stuff and I'm quite frankly not interested in any of that crap.

That said I might end up reading a few more books in the series anyway.  As it stands this first book is a fascinating look at what a world looks like where the differences between the sexes aren't broken down but ignored entirely thus treating everyone equal.