Friday, December 31, 2010

All These Worlds Are Yours

The space shuttles are being decommissioned, the Hubble telescope is soon to de-orbit, and the habitable extrasolar world Gliese 581g might or might not exist.

But in more EXCITING space news, night vanishes forever this year when a horde of bizarre alien monoliths devoured Jupiter and ignited the remains as a second sun!

So, that happened.

Welcome to the Earth of the future. A world of Perpetual Twilight. (Although, thankfully, not the book and movie franchise).

U.S. President Arthur Clarke & Russian Premier Stanley Kubrick urge a world in the grip of the Cold War to remain calm and go back to their beer pong.

We here at Mike's Best Blog Ever wish the crew of spaceship Leonov well on their return journey from Jupiter's moon Io:

John Lithgow, Roy Schieder, Helen Mirren, Bob Balaban- we wish you well.  And David Bowman, whatever you are.



Wednesday, December 29, 2010

They Fight Evil... With Mixed Results

"I can't watch this!"- Todd cries, appalled by something horrific not meant for human eyes.

"I can't NOT watch this!"- his friend Curtis responds, MUCH too excited.

If I had just one channel, (and trust me, that is not the case) I'd want it to be the SPACE channel. The same people who brought me the heartwarming Doctor Who Christmas special (which was tremendous, by the by) also bring me this spine-chilling horror comedy from the frozen plains of Winnipeg: Todd & The Book of Pure Evil

Apparently, I was the only one I know watching this 13 episode violence and cursing-filled tale of two stoner buddies and a pair of somewhat cleverer young ladies who attempt to stop a Satanic Tome intent on granting wishes in the same manner as Lisa the Genie from 'Weird Science' only with the same mortality rate as the Djinn from 'Wishmaster'.

Director/creator Craig David Wallace brings all this unpleasantness together in a high-schoolers battle monsters heavy-metal-loving splatter fest with heart. Yes, I know that's a lot to ask, but I swear I think this works.  For kids! (NOT FOR KIDS.)

"Supported" by the world's worst guidance counselor and a janitor mentor, will Todd and his friends save Crowley High?  Will they save EVEN ONE PERSON from grisly death?

Watch it this January.  IT'S YOUR LAST CHANCE!


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Favourite Characters: The Daft Punk MP3s

This past Saturday was a delight when I went with friends to TRON: Legacy.  The original TRON is a great favourite of mine, and this film is a worthy successor.

My friend Kirk beat me to the punch, character-wise, on his blog.  

I was most satisfied by the return of zen beardy Kevin Flynn & (too-briefly) of noble Alan Bradley, and by the technical accomplishment that is the dastardly CLU. 

I was adequately served by angry Sam, and my favourite is surely the dashing, gleeful Quorra (seen here from behind, not on Flynn's ever-present couch). Classy, no?

But, fun as the picture is, when the writing or the editing (I can't say which until I see a DVD with deleted scenes) removes motivations and FEEELings in favour of MICHAEL! BAY! SPLOSIONS! you can lose the glimmer of overall significance.

Thus all due praise and props to: The Daft Punk MP3s.  Musical Programs who deftly sweep us along and deliver the pulsing heartbeat that keeps this movie truly alive.  Cool, robotic, driven, and soulful all at once.

The religiously zealous old-school TRON-fanatic Users who Wrote these living embodiments of electronica gave non-verbal voice to the hidden heart of this flick.  Thanks, Daft Punk!

If the head of dialog fell too silent for my tastes, this movie is still a success in the visceral realms of thrilling sights and bit-blasting soundtrack.

Right on, programs!  

Like the Max Rebo band before you, I can only hope you got offstage before the explosions.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Hugos: Gateway

Frederik Pohl is 91 years old, and writes a blog, which I only discovered today and therefore have very little to say about it.  I read the entries tagged 'Gateway', the only book of his I've read, which won the Hugo award in 1978.

Pohl's won the Hugo for other things 3 times, and has a large body of work both as a writer and editor.  I've snapped up several of his 'Heechee Saga' (Gateway is the first) books at used bookstores, but thanks to the lure of television I am practically illiterate, so they've just  gathered dust for years.

Ancient treasures like Pohl and his books are the subject of 'Gateway', along with the wonder and terror of extremely dangerous space travel.

Picture this: an asteroid was left behind in our solar system eons ago by an advanced culture called the Heechee, about whom almost nothing is known.  The asteroid, called Gateway, is a thriving destination for desperately insane prospectors struggling to survive on overpopulated Earth.  Gateway is riddled with little automated interstellar spaceships that still... work.  Kind of.  Humans are dangerously underqualified to run these spaceships, but that's fine because nobody's qualified but the Heechee- and they're gone.  

It works like a Vegas slot machine: get in the ship, pull the lever, and you takes your chances.

Two thirds of the people who get in the ships die- of starvation, radiation, deadly destinations, who-the-hell knows and other.  Less than a third make it back to Gateway... but the lucky ones make themselves and Gateway Corporation filthy rich by discovering livable worlds, advanced technology, or other such doodads.

Our wealthy protagonist Bob relates the three such trips he risked his life on to his computer psychologist Sigfrid von Shrink.  You know Bob got out alive... and yet...

This was a great concept and an exciting read, with very human characters and certain inescapable tragedies.  Despite my preference for happy endings, I gave it 4 stars out of 5 on goodreads for some reason.  It's good, is what I'm saying.  

I'll be drawn back to the sequels someday- I never know what I'll get but I just can't resist the gamble.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Book Review: The Barsoom Series

Kaor, John Carter, Warlord of Mars!  

Kaor, Edgar "I Can Write Stories Just As Rotten As That" Burroughs!  

And Kaor, Carlos, who loaned me the eleven delightful books of Barsoom!

Kaor (it means hello in Barsoomian, the tongue spoken on Mars) to you also, dear reader.  

May I heartily recommend you borrow, scrounge, or have downloaded into your cerebellum these fine stories of the warlike red planet Barsoom.  (I just can't stop saying it!) 

These books spin a tale of pulpy high adventure from the days almost one hundred years agone, when men of Earth were men of Earth, red women of Mars were red women of Mars, and hideous giant fish-faced caterpillars from Jupiter were hideous giant fish-faced caterpillars from Jupiter.

Probably you know Burroughs best for his character Tarzan, at least if you are someone who's ever heard anything about anything.  

Now, me?  I like the version of Tarzan that Eddie invented first: the immortal Civil War veteran John Carter, who somehow astral projects his naked butt to Mars, battles the hordes of green barbarian Tharks, rescues the equally but incomparably naked butt 
of the Incomparable Dejah Thoris, Princess of Helium, and inside of a few short books is running the whole damn planet (shown here) with his good right arm and phenomenal abs.

What courage!  

What stamina!  

Optimism up the wazoo!  

After nine days without food and water you won't catch me winning any hundred-to-one swordfights (Book Three).  

Carter meets an array of bizarre creatures, from the vicious four-armed white apes to the ever-mutating vats of synthetic men.  He gathers (or sires) a veritable army of stalwart companions, from humorless Tars Tarkas to the spidery kaldane, to his spirited grand-daughter Llana of Gathol.
There can be a certain same-y-ness to these books if you read them in a matter of months (as I did) instead of over the forty years they were printed.  You may find yourself nodding through another tale of dungeon escape, swashing buckles, and primary-colored princesses just-barely-saved from marriages worse than death. 

But the sheer energy!  The madness!  The creatures!  The passion!  When Edgar Rice Burroughs decided he could write "just as rotten" as the pulps of his time, he started down a path that made him an unstoppable immortal. Kind of like Carter himself. 

One day they'll be reading these on Barsoom itself, probably in the Burroughs crater, with genetically-engineered six-legged frogs snoozing at their feet in front of a roaring red moss fire.  But they'll probably still wear pants, though.  

Real Mars is chilly.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Starship Troopers 3: It's A Good Day To Sigh

In case it's not apparent from my earlier posts, I was and am a big fan of the movie 'Starship Troopers'.  

However, Starship Troopers 2 was such unutterable bilge I don't want to waste even one sentence describing how godawful... 

Yes, it's not good.  It is a steaming piece of... cheese.  But, that said, if you were a big fan of the original and there's nothing on but 'Dancing with the Bears', then, like me, you can watch this one without using the fast forward button... much.

Otherwise (and that's a big otherwise) just avoid it. The way I couldn't.

Casper Van (Not As Bad As Tom Welling) Dien returns to flash his derriere as Johnny Rico, finally given the (very brief) opportunity to drive the robot suits promised in the book.  Like all the other 'special' effects, they left me not only underwhelmed but entirely Unwhelmed.  (The robots, not the butt.  Man's got a fine butt.)

The bugs that Rico's butt and company battle were apparently much cheaper and rarely effective- see one jarhead gutted by a cartoon you've seen them all.  I enjoyed the bug nickname 'Archie' as in 'Archie's on the move, sir'.  It's Riverdale, but stabbier.

Less enjoyable is the incomprehensible delivery of buxom Lt. Manikin- sorry, Manion, who was recruited to round out the Toplessness Division of the Federation, and who makes young Schwartzenegger sound like Sir Ian McKellan.

Speaking of objectionable, the part of Captain Beck goes to former Vulcan sexpot Jawlock Blaylock- sorry, Jolene Blowfish, SORRY- Jolene Blaylock.  (Why? Why would you do that to your face?!?)
If I can go off tangent here, (if tangent I had,) then, Ladies of Hollywood and Earth, this lip surgery is the lady equivalent of the Comb-Over.  

Yes, I'm sorry, but you're mortal.  

Try to face it with dignity and stop listening to the doctors and hangers-on who aren't telling you: THAT looks WAY WORSE than natural aging.

Anyhoo, Sky Marshall Anoke livened up the proceedings as a merchandise-hawking, pop-singing, religious zealot who leads our heros(?) right down the vaginal gullet and pointy phalluses of the monstrous Behemecoatyl 'Brain of Brains', finally splattered by the planet-busting bomb promised in the book.

I return from the killing fields of planet Roku San to bring you these details so you don't have to.  Do your part, Citizen!  Pretend this trilogy stopped at one.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Stodgy or Sanctimonius... WHICH SHALL IT BE?

In April 1927, sci-fi writer Herbert Wells lambasted 'Metropolis' in this review.

He begins by saying he doesn't think it would be 'possible to make a sillier film'.

Ten years later, he made a movie himself, and proved that ANYTHING is possible!

Wells calls Lang's movie 'thin bunkum', 'old-fashioned balderdash' and 'sentimentalizing make-believe' which 'ruins the market for any better film along these lines'.

Which brings me to 'Things To Come' (1936).  And not in a good way.  

It certainly IS devoid of sentiment- that is to say, it is a plodding morass of wretched tedium where I was hard pressed to find ANY emotion I could identify with save the obvious notion that 'war is bad'.

The film covers 100 years (and feels like it, too) in an hour and a half.  

The first half hour introduces us to stilted conversations and warbling hymns as the London Blitz comes to Everytown a year late in 1940 and global war stays until the mid-sixties.  This is followed by the Wandering Sickness (ie zombie plague, only more boring) that kills half of the world.  

In the second half hour, we discover 1970 is the year smug, fetish-clad English airmen sweep in from the scientifically advanced and benevolent dictatorship of Basra and 'Peace Gas' the backward savages of Everytown into submission.  The leader of these douchebags we're meant to be applauding is John Cabal, seen here looking sensible and not at all silly in his personal plane and Wondrous Ice Cream Scoop Hat.
The airmen of "Wings Over the World", "World Communication", "The Government of Common Sense" (or whatever it is they're actually called) crush the feeble locals and their horse-drawn motorcars and rusty biplanes.  Having made the world safe for dictatorship, they set up AN EIGHT DAMN MINUTE MUSICAL SALUTE to industry and efficiency: welding, strip-mining, and science-ing up a storm!  This "soon" culminates with the image of a 40 foot long automated toilet plunger assembling a building because...

It's 2036!  Spindly moving sidewalks NOT AT ALL CRIBBED from Metropolis!  Creepy stone lady statues NOT AT ALL CRIBBED... never mind!  Cuddly little helicopters!  SO CUTE!

We're told man has "conquered nature and built A GREAT WHITE WORLD."  Oh, dear. That's an unfortunate couple of phrases.  And, yeah, it sure is WHITE.  

The conflict now is between an odd, loud craftsman who fears space travel will FORCE(?) humanity to live in awful, nasty, old outer space, and the strident, speechifying descendants of Cabal who are chomping at the bit to fire their lovely suicidal kids out of a GIANT GUN pointed at the moon, never to rest until all of space and time are conquered.  A fey and orderly riot breaks out and may or may not be resolved somehow.

WELLS WROTE 'THE TIME MACHINE'!  And 'The Invisible Man'.  And 'War of The Worlds'. And 'The First Men in the Moon'.  This guy FOUNDED twentieth century science fiction!  WHAT HAPPENED HERE?

My theory is he tried SO hard to make the opposite of 'Metropolis' he forgot that logical, meticulous extrapolation and scientific accuracy are fine and dandy, but a film audience really wants to have some FUN with their Message Flakes.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Between the Head & The Hands... Jodhpurs!

Nothing says FUTURE like a tight, wistful pair of jodhpurs, or so it seemed to Freder Frederson, ineffectual son of wealthy industrialist Joh Frederson in 'Metropolis', the 1927 black and white silent film by Fritz Lang.

Many thanks to my buddy Ron for running the recently released restored version of this sci-fi classic for me yesterday!

At 2 and a half hours, it is an hour longer than the version I watched back in my university film studies class- but this time I stayed awake and it made more sense!  The restored footage comes partly from an all-but-scratched-to-hell copy found 2 years ago in a Buenos Aries museum.  Thus, this DVD is the closest you can come to seeing this film in its original form without a time machine and a willingness to visit NEARLY-NAZI Germany.

(If you have a time machine, PLEASE consider going forward.)

Such as fabulous 2026!  

Where biplanes meander between skyscrapers and hordes of miserable workers die in horrible explosions while servicing bizarre machines! 

Where the elite drive classic hundred-year old German cars along spindly sky-high roadways!

And where C. A. Rotwang (yes, a name and a venereal disease all in one!), the mad scientist, kidnaps a lady preacher, copies her features onto an eerie robot and incites rioting via alternating strip shows and church sermons using her indoor screams.

The writer joined the Nazis 6 years later and her husband, Lang, divorced her over it and continued his film directing in less deadly countries.  He remained chapped about the extreme editing job done on the film and it seems he was right.

Metropolis had a hella big budget: 5 million is a lot of ANYTHING, even twenties-era Reichsmarks.  And although it didn't turn a profit, it was very popular.  That kooky Joseph Goebbels thought the world of it!  Joey killed a lot of people before he got the right one, but I guess we agree on one thing: it's a cool movie.

83 years old and it managed to give me both heebies and jeebies.  

That's precision German-engineered creepy!

The gyrating robot girl was a mere 17 in her triple role as Maria, Machinemenchen Maria, and Tod (the Grim Spectre of Death), while the bad guys lusting after her closely resemble Grand Moff Tarkin and Beetlejuice.  Yeeurgh!  

H.G. Wells gave Metropolis a thumbs down, apparently, so to see what the future will REALLY be like, I'll soon be watching Wells' 'Things To Come'.