Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Legend of Sheik

Hello, Space Monkees!

Do you know who one of my favorite "Legend of Zelda" characters is?  Well that should be easy considering the drawing above.  Why its none other than Sheik, the sexually ambiguous alter-ego of Princess Zelda herself from "Ocarina of Time" and the "Super Smash Bros" series.  Sheik (whom I'll refer to with female pronouns because Nintendo seems to have finally decided that she's indeed a "she") helps Link out during his battle with Ganon after the fall of the Kingdom of Hyrule, usually in the form of advise or magical Ocarina songs.  But you never get to see her in action, sadly.  The only time Sheik even gets the chance to fight is seconds after she returns to being Zelda - and as Zelda she is immediately kidnapped, which was always something of a disappointment to me.  And after that...  Sheik is never seen again.  Not once.  Now that's a real travesty right there.

Luckily there is Smash Bros, where Sheik has been over and over again one of the coolest characters on the board.  She's almost as good as my fav, Fox.  More importantly, since Sheik is so fast, she's my favorite character to fight against with Fox, making lighting fast battles all throughout the board.  And to be one of the best characters in the best fighting games ever made is really saying something.  This was actually where I first found Sheik - and like everybody else was very confused by her gender (though not as much as with Marth and Roy, I should add).  Yes, I was attracted to Sheik, I still she's hot.  And she's definitely not male.

...Seriously, not male.

...stop looking at me that way.

I'm not gay!*

Anyway, the point I'm trying to make here is that Sheik is really badass... and sexy, no matter what gender she is.  So obviously Sheik deserves her own game.  Think about it:  Tingle, the most hated character in pretty much all of video games, has his own game.  In fact, Tingle has like three now, none of which will ever be released in America because Nintendo knows we won't buy crap like that.  Anyway, Sheik would be the perfect hero for a video game.  And to celebrate that fact, I draw that little bit of fanart right up there.  Just my little interpretation of how Sheik should look (pretend its actually good for a second then you'll see what I was going for).  What's a good name for this title?  Easy:  "The Legend of Sheik".

Naturally there's no way in Hell Nintendo is going to do this, because I'm just some loud-mouth idiot on the Internet.  But I can dream, can't I?  FANWANKARY LEVELS TO THE MAX!!!

And here's the storyline pitch.  Just a bit of a warning its a bit dark:

"This is but one of the legend of which people speak...

Hyrule has lived in peace for hundreds of years following the victory of the Hero of Time over the evil king of the Gerudo sands, Ganondorf.  To guard the kingdom, a Great Eastern Wall has been built to lock out the evils from the now empty desert.  The kingdom is in joyous celebration as Queen Zelda has given birth to the newest heir to the throne, Princess Zelda, nicknamed "Tetra".  (This makes keeping the two characters separate a lot easier, and its a cool continuity nod, isn't it?)  But something stirs in the dark empty sands...

A dark army, lead by a reborn, Ganon marches out from the desert onto kingdom, resting after a long day's celebration.  The Wall, thought to be so eternal, is smashed, and soon the entire kingdom is overrun.  Hyrule's armies can only put up a token resistance before they too are broken and crushed like the kingdom they tried to defend.  Darkness overtakes the land, and the desert spreads out into Hyrule field, turning everything that was good and green into empty ruined sands.  The young Princess Tetra is sent off into the mountains, where she can be safe far from the bestial eyes of Ganon.  Of Princess Zelda, nothing is known.  The people fear her slain by the Dark Beast.  They call their prayers up to the heavens, hoping that the Hero of Time will return.  However, there prayer is not answered.

(This bit is debatable to me, it seems just too dark, and out of character of this series.  I feel I need to explain why Ganon was not defeated, but the implications here are just too much for me.)  A hero clad in green does appear, Master Sword in hand.  He rides to Ganon's Tower in the desert, and breaks through to the Dark Beast's chambers.  But his strength fails him, and the boy is defeated.  The Triforce of Courage is shattered, flying off to the four winds, along any hope of Hyrule's salvation.  (But Link can't lose!  If its too much, I'll just ignore Link altogether.  No explanation is probably better than this horrible one.)

Instead all that is left is a loan warrior, Sheik, who stands against the forces of evil.  Not being the Legendary Hero, and unable to lift the Master Sword, Sheik has no hope of defeating Ganon, but that will not stop her hope of saving the desperate Kingdom.  Traveling across the land, she attempts to find the five peaces of the [insert McGuffin name here], an ancient artifact that can speak to the Gods themselves, each piece hidden in a dungeon far in the mysterious Gerudo Deserts where no man has walked for generations.  With it, Sheik hopes to contact the Gods and seal away the great evil.  She also searches for the Ocarina of Time, hoping to use its power to save her daughter from these terrible times of evil.  Though the foes she faces are mighty, Sheik's has strength of her own.  With her daggers, her whip, her magical harp, and her tantō, Sheik will overcome any enemy.  Acrobatic agility, and speed are her allies, and the bane of all who would stand in her way. 

Ultimately, the call is made.  But Ganon's power has grown great enough to retake human form, Ganondorf has returned in full.  With this strength he could stop the intervention of the Gods.  Sheik must herself go to Ganondorf's abode, to give enough time for her people to be freed and so that the Dark King does not learn of her plan.  The battle is desperate, nay hopeless.  After a long battle, Sheik's body is broken, and her disguise revealed.  Ganondorf learns much to his delight that the last warrior who has stood against him so long is none other than the lost Queen Zelda herself.  But while he laughs in what he thinks is his victory, the Gods send down a Great Flood to cover the land in ocean, sealing away Ganondorf's evil forever.  The Gods show mercy on the people of Hyrule, bringing them up to the surface so that they may live in peace on Hyrule's mountaintops, which have now become the islands of the Great Sea.

In her last act, as she lays dieing, Zelda plays a final song on the Ocarina of Time.  With it, Tetra, still too young to remember her true name or her mother's face, is sent into the far future, so that she may live in a time of peace, and found a New Hyrule.  Knowing that she has saved her people, Zelda closes her eyes happily.

So ends the Legend of Sheik...

Now how awesome would that game be?  Seriously, beyond awesome.

*Well, except for some very serious cases, like with Sephiroth or George Clooney.  I mean, come on.  Like damn!  Tell me right now that you wouldn't if the Cloonster asked you to.  You can't can you?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saw Franchise

Hello, Space Monkees, I want to play a game.

By the way SPOILER WARNING.  There are going to be spoilers up the wazzoo, so if you want to watch this franchise fresh, just read up to about the first ellipsis.

Living in the 21st century can sometimes be rather difficult.  Oh yes, its nice that the Internet allows a global exchange of ideas like no other before, that cellphones allow for a form of quasi-telepathy, and that visual effects have grown more and more impressive in video games, movies, and TV shows, but still there's something a bit missing in this picture.  That's horror movies.  Frankly, the genre is a walking corpse, breeding silly foreign adaptations, zombie remakes of earlier classics, and just plain old crap ("The Strangers" comes to mind).

Living in this century, you get the feeling that all the great horror has already come and gone.  "Halloween", "Nightmare on Elm Street", "The Shining", "Evil Dead", "Hellraiser", "Night of the Living Dead", etc.  Its like, I come around and then suddenly:  party's over!  Personally I have to blame the "Scream" movies, which despite being actually really fun films, through horror in such a tongue-in-cheek manner that it basically killed the genre.  When you go to a horror movie these days, everybody in the audience is trying to be Tom Servo - its just a bit giant joke.  Nobody is scared, nobody is grossed-out, nobody is enjoying the film for its own merits.  You're laughing at it.  Horror is a bigger comedy genre than Comedy.

(By the way, if you're looking for the force that's doing the most damage to Horror, don't look at Stephanie Myers and "Twilight".  No.  The actual Dark Man is none other than Michael Bay.  Yeah, that Michael Bay.  You would not believe how many terrible horror remakes he has his on as a Producer.)

But its not all bad, let's try to find some last stand fortresses against this rising tide of the World Moving On.  There were indeed a few really good horror movies last decade.  Rob Zombie had a couple of wonderfully disgusting red neck brutality movies ("House of 1000 Corpses", and "Devil's Rejects" - both horrible and awesome)... but then he started raping "Halloween", and now he's mired deep in remaking old classics.  Zombies are far more popular than ever, and there were a few classics made like "28 Days Later" and the surprisingly good remake of "Dawn of the Dead".  But for every living and breathing zombie movie, there's six animated corpses (ex. "Land of the Dead", "28 Weeks Later").

And then there's "Saw", the shiny glorious last holdout of what once was the great Horror civilization.  Its the Byzantine Empire of Horror, the last piece of an ancient and lost culture surviving many years after that culture has ended.  "Saw" is pretty much all that's left.


Yeah, "Saw".


Fuck you, I like "Saw"!  I don't need your friggin' judgment.   Shut up!

Every single year since 2004, there has been a new "Saw" installment.  And every single year, I've been entertained.  I didn't go see the first movie, because it just looked like another cliche supernatural slasher movie (with the puppet being the killer).  Actually the only reason I even rented it was because Danny "I'm too old for this shit" Glover was in it.  And boy was I surprised.  It was the most original horror movie I had seen since "Se7en", these movies' spiritual predecessor.  The basic plot begins with two men trapped in an abandoned bathroom, and they're both tied down by their legs.  In between them is a corpse, and a saw.  What is the saw for?  They have to CUT their own feet off to escape.

The killer, Jigsaw, instead just running around a summer camp ground and shoving his knife into big-breasted sluts in a flurry of Freudian subtext, he would turn their deaths into a moral test of character.  Its never (in his eyes) "murder" because supposedly every victim could survive.  You see, Jigsaw  If you truly wanted to live, you would overcome your vice (symbolically represented by mutilating yourself or another somehow) and survive.  Or if lacked the will to survive, you would be torn to shreds by some maniacal apparatus that was a mixture of black steel and fluid nightmares.  And then the twists started coming in.  And then more twists were thrown in too.  And then it all ended with the mother of twists:  Jigsaw isn't the guy who the movie set up, instead the corpse in the middle of the room was villain all along - and he's very much alive!  But what really pulled the entire movie together was the raspy voice of Tobin Bell as the killer saying the classic line:  "Hello, [Insert Name], I want to play a game."

Like most films, "Saw" was never intended to be a franchise.  But the ever-seductive smell of money made Lion's Gate demand more, and then more, and more, and more, and more.  We're up to six now.  From this comes the basic formula of the films.  There's always a central character or characters stuck in an abandoned building.  They must go through a series of tests involving other people, typically a choice between their own maiming and the person's life.  Finally when they reach the end of the "game", they mother of all twists hits them, and they almost never survive in the end.  (The main character of the first movie is still MIA, and the main guy of the third movie lasts about five minutes into the fourth before being filled with bullets.)  Even with Jigsaw himself being dead for now half the franchise, it still lives on with through his apprentices, one was a victim from the first movie (now dead), and the other is the totally badass detective Hoffman, who now holds some kind of record for longest-running character in the series.  At the very least this horror franchise is a franchise, instead of the same movie being made over and over again just with different casts.

Yeah, "Friday the 13th", I'm talking about you!  Suck it!

I'm not going to call any of these movies Shakespeare - Jigsaw's philosophy is completely insane and yet nobody ever calls him out on it.  Numerous victims actually are not bad people at all, and some just seem to die from random chance.  In one movie, I swear to God, a guy was picked for a test because he was a smoker.  Come on, Jigsaw!  You can find much bigger assholes than that!  Also, ever since "Saw III", the franchise really has not been nearly as good.  I actually stopped going to the theatre to see these last year.  At that point it looked like thing were never going to be settled, and everything would continue like another 80s horror franchise.  Some people I know refuse to believe that any more movies were made after "Saw II".  I, however, still enjoy these movies.  Not because there's anything to learn or understand, but because this is all just a lot of fun!  And that's what a movie should be.

Then I watched "Saw VI".  It was the best movie the franchise had done in at least four years.  Hoffman went from a side-character, to a fully fledged badass, surviving impossible situation after impossible situation.  He even lived through a "game" that was purposefully designed to be unwinnable -a first from Jigsaw.  Not to mention that the kills were nice and gruesome, the tension was back up, and finally it seems like things might be moving towards a conclusion.

So I'll be watching "Saw VII" when it inevitably comes out next October.  With "Saw VI" ironically being the least profitable of the entire franchise, it seems that perhaps this newest movie might be the end.  I know Lion's Gate is just making it all up as they go along, but I'll follow them down into the pits of Hell until there comes a final conclusion to this storyline.  I might still be watching if they make a "Saw XII".  This plane might be in a nose dive straight down to Earth, but I aint putting my parachute on.  If need by, I'll go down in a glorious rain of fire when the franchise finally smashes into the ground.  And you can be sure, the Q? will have something to say about it.

Oh yes, there will be blood.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks

Hey, Space Monkees!

This is a review I've been meaning to do for some time now.  However, do to other games, I've put "Spirit Tracks" on the backburner for awhile.  I'm not a professional, or even aspire to be one, so that luckily frees me up from any standards of timeliness.  Even better, I don't need to be objective, helpful, or reasonable.  But I am anyway because if I weren't I would end up like Captain Running-Joke, Armond White.

Let me being the review with a classic trick I liked to use in my walkthroughs, the parable of the Teacher in a classroom filled with idiots.  (By the way, I never mentioned this earlier, but its actually an adult night school.  That's an important detail.)


Teacher:  Class, can we please smoking weed for just a minute so that we can answer one question for ol' Blue?  Okay, here we go:  what is the greatest video game series of all time?

Classroom:  ....?

Teacher:  Okay, you must have all been either too high or stupid to hear what I said.  I'll repeat:  what is the greatest video game series of all time?

Billy:  Uh...  I know!  Weed!

(The Classroom bursts into hysterics.  But then they stop when they realize the Teacher is laughing too.  In fact, Teacher is laughing really loudly.  Inappropriately loudly.  Disturbingly loudly.  This goes on for a very long minute, which seems a lot longer because the entire Classroom is baked out of their minds.)

Classroom:  .....

Teacher:  Alright then.  Its time to break out the "learning tools" then.

(Teacher grabs a yardstick and beats Billy to a bloody pulp.)

Teacher:  Oh by the way, the answer was "The Legend of Zelda".


...I really do need to get that Teacher into an anger management course one of these days.

I think the point Teacher was trying to make is that "The Legend of Zelda" series has been, without a doubt, the most consistently fun, entertaining, and just plain old excellent video game franchise ever created by human hands.  What else could you possibly claim even comes close?  In order for you to top Zelda, you would first need over three decades of glorious tradition, then a timeless ability to adapt to new advances in video game technology and standards, and finally a universal appeal that any person can enjoy.  "Final Fantasy"?  Hell no.  Metroid?  Not even close.  Mario?  Just maybe, but still no cigar.  Ultimately you must surrender yourself to the fact that Zelda is just a plain above all the rest.

I think what really makes Zelda so much better than the other franchises is the fact that pretty much every single game has been, over and over again, constantly at a standard of wonderful quality.  Nobody in the world likes every single Final Fantasy game, but very few fans of the Zelda series can honestly claim they really dislike one game or another.  You might not find "Phantom Hourglass" to be as good as "Wind Waker", but that's a petty complaint, not really based in the idea that one or the other actually is a bad game.  Tingle sucks, but he never ruins the game.  The dungeons in "Minish Cap" are too easy, but it isn't a deal breaker.

Of course, there are loud and annoying people - what TV Tropes calls a "FanDumb" - who cannot be happy even with this.  Some of these "fans" will find nothing but things to complain about:  "every game is too similar", "this game is too different", "Ganon isn't the villain", "Ganon IS the villain", etc.  I've never met these people or heard from them first hand, so I assume they're partially a thing of myth.  But if they do exist, they should become Final Fantasy fans - there's never a shortage of things to complain about in Final Fantasy.  As for Zelda, its as near to perfect as a series can ever hope to get.

Or maybe that's just me and my opinion.  I can never tell, you know.

Anyway, "Spirit Tracks" is the latest successor to the Zelda tradition.  Its a sequel to "Phantom Hourglass", taking place 100 years later after Link (whom I always name "Blue", so Blue he will be for the rest of this article) and Tetra have settled a new Hyrule where the main method of travel has become Trains mostly so that Nintendo can reuse the "Phantom Hourglass" engine.  Once again you're Blue, but a different Blue than the last on, actually you're no relation at all from what I've seen.  After an act of betrayal, the ancient evil sleeping under New Hyrule's soil is almost about to be reawakened, and an Evil Train is on the loose.  Worse yet, the new Princess Zelda has had her body snatched away, so now she's stuck as a ghost.  Blue and Ghost-Zelda must now travel around the world fighting evil to save the day.

So its basically the typical Zelda affair.  If you've played "Phantom Hourglass", you'll know exactly how this game plays, as it truly is that game's sequel.  Many of the problems that game had are still around.  You'll spend a lot more time than you'll want to exploring the World Map, only thing time you're on a train instead of a boat.  That means that unlike "Phantom Hourglass" and more unlike "Wind Waker", there really is not much exploring to be done around the world, because you can see all the locations already.  Luckily there are a few issues resolved.  For example, even though the Master Dungeon is back, its much more fun this time around because 1) the Time Limit is gone, and 2) you don't have to go through the floors over and over again.  Also you can take those awful Phantom enemies from the very beginning.

The main addition is in Zelda herself.  At first she works as just the Fairy Companion archetype, giving you hints and following you around.  She does serve in an exciting new mechanic though:  in the Master Dungeon she can posses the Phantom enemies, making her a walking tank of enemy destruction.  With two characters, all sorts of puzzle opportunities are created, and Nintendo being Nintendo, you'll see them all by the end of this game.  Phantom-Zelda can even be used in a few combat sequences against minibosses.

Another major new thing is the return of a musical instrument.  I've always loved this mechanic - mostly because I cannot actually play any instruments, and this sorta fills out that fantasy of mine.  This time you have a pan flute which is played by blowing into your DS's microphone while scrolling for the proper pipe using the stylus.  Its an extremely intuitive system that makes you feel like you're actually playing a pan flute, and it can be a lot of fun.  Only one problem....  it means you absolutely cannot play this game outside in the view of strangers.  Unless you're completely immune to the glints of critical light coming out of the eyes of people you've never met as they stare at you like you're an insane homeless preacher on a subway train, this is a game that can only be played at home - hopefully far from even your loved ones.

But beyond that the gameplay is the classic Zelda glory.  Dungeon crawling, enemy slaying, and puzzle solving:  the three tenets of the sacred Triforce of days of enjoyment.  This series is so consistently awesome that I've run out things to say and I'm already starting to wrap up.  I still haven't really beaten the entire game yet, but I'm about halfway through.  There's one badass-looking villain who I cannot wait to fight, and a silly looking Irish guy with two hats who also really needs to taste sword.  I'm sure the rest of this adventure is going to be just as fun as the first part as been.

Fanwank Corner:  Nintendo, can we please get a trailer or even just a real name for the upcoming Zelda Wii?  I really cannot wait.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Tale" From the Q?: Winner

Hey, Space Monkees!

Last semester I wrote a short, short story for my college's campus literature magazine.  I'll spare you my suspense - it was not accepted.  So, if just to give poor Hollander's story some immortality, I'll repost it here.  Enjoy:


After several panicked moments of hunting for forgotten quarters in the empty hallway of the shopping mall, Hollander finally found enough change to page the $1.75 the soda machine demanded.  With a moment of hesitation, Hollander debated pressing the buttons marked “A” and then “7” to buy a bottle of lemon-lime soda.  He knew that once those buttons were pushed, the point of no return would be passed.  He would no longer be able to hit the “change return” button.  Once that bottle hit the bottom of the machine, Hollander would have lost his very last bits of money.  The combined amount of all his assets in the world now amounted to just a few ounces of green plastic and the carbonated beverage inside.   But the dry feeling in the back of Hollander’s throat overrode his financial concerns, and he made the purchase.  With a loud thump, the soda fell to the bottom of the machine.

With his soda in hand, Hollander decided to rest his body on the bench several feet away in front of a men’s room.  The soda machine, the bench, and the bathroom were all off in a hallway away from the rest of the shopping populace.  Those people had money to burn on video games and scented soap and fancy clothes with designer labels, certainly the purchase of a just single bottle of soft drink would not be a big problem at all.  Hollander was not one of those people anymore.  Perhaps tonight this bench would be his bed.  It all depended upon whether a security guard would decide to confront him.  Hollander did not want to begin walking again today.  A long day’s march had left his feet worn and blistered.  Overcoming a weak sense of modesty against stripping in a public place, Hollander took off his shoes.  At this point he did not care if passing shoppers could smell his feet or notice the huge hole in his sock.  The sweet air chilled his ragged feet.  Feeling more relaxed; he twisted off the soda bottle’s cap.  He drank deep from the sugary liquid.  There was a slight tang of pain as the bubbles scratched his throat, and his eyes watered up a little.  Yet even so, Hollander felt for a just a short moment a bit at peace.

It didn’t last long.  The negative thoughts, the worries, the fear, they all would not stay down for long.  As much as Hollander tried to suppress himself - to ignore it all for just a bit longer – the troubles polluted his mind.  Now it was gone, just like his job, his home, his family, his life.  All gone.  He had been forced out of regular society, and now belonged to the bitter underbelly.  He was now a person that most people preferred to ignore or brush away with loose change – a homeless person.  Just how long could he wander the streets like this before he began to look like what he now was?  When would his cloths become tattered, his face pock-marked, and his skin dirty?  Where would he be sleeping tomorrow?  Just where in the world was he going, now that he had nowhere in the world to go? 

A more mundane question:  what time was it?  Hollander looked down at his wrist out of an automated reflex, but all he saw was a band of pale skin where his watch used to lay.  Compared to everything else he had lost, that watch was unimportant, but even so the loss of time seemed to hurt him the most.  People in his position didn’t need to know what time it was.  You don’t punch a clock when you are out living on public benches.  Time is a luxury for people with a purpose.

Hollander tried to wash back all these dark thoughts with another gulp of the soda bottle.  To avoid going through the same old mental exercise of trying to find out exactly how it had all come to this, he decided to read the wrapper around his soda bottle.  “Nutrition Facts:  Calories – 100, Total Fat:  0g, Sodium 20mg, Total Carbohydrate 28mg, Sugars 28g, Protein 0g, Not a significant source of other nutrients”.  There was a phone number listed for “Any Questions”.  Hollander might have actually called, but he had thrown his cell phone away days ago.  There was nobody left in the world who he could call anyway.  Nobody wanted to speak to him.  Instead Hollander took another sip of his 20mg of Sodium and 28g of sugars, and then flipped the bottle over to see if there was anything else to read.

There was.  In fancy cursive font, the soda bottle teased:  “ARE YOU A WINNER??”  No, thought Hollander, I am most definitely not a winner.  The bottle continued to tease:  “Check under the cap to find out if you are the lucky winner of ONE MILLION DOLLARS!!”  Underneath the caption there was a drawing of several dozen cartoon dollar bills sticking out with sparkles all around.  It seemed to Hollander to be a promise of unfathomable wealth and happiness – all the more unfathomable to him since he currently had none of either.

For a moment, Hollander went to look for the bottle cap to check if by some lunatic miracle he had won.  However, he knew all too well that these games were completely impossible.  It would be more likely to be hit by lightning, or eaten by a shark, or die on a roller coaster or whatever stock statistic people use to describe impossible odds than for his bottle - one of millions manufactured - to be the winning one.  For all Hollander knew, somebody had already won and the contest was over.  How long this bottle had been in the machine?  Quite simply, even checking the bottle cap was a waste of time.  If such sure things such as having a job and a house could fail you, then long-short daydreams like winning a soda contest were surely beyond your range.

Instead, Hollander decided to lie down on the bench in front of the men’s room.  He could hear the shuffling traffic of the many mall shoppers begin to die down.  Soon enough he heard the metal shriek of store owners lowering down their metal fences to keep out midnight thieves and vagrants – like him.  The day had grown late, and he was tired.  Hollander shut his eyes and tried to keep out the thoughts of his lost life so that he could finally get some rest.  But after ten minutes he was far more awake than ever before.  His eyes felt too big under their lids, and he wanted to open them.  When he started to look around, he noticed a mall security guard walking towards him.  To avoid a potentially awkward confrontation, he surrendered the bench and moved on.  Where would his tired feet take him tonight?  Nowhere, most likely.  The best he could hope was for a nice place to finally rest and leave his ruined dreams behind.

By the bench, a small green plastic bottle cap rolled along the tiled hallway before finally stopping face up.  Within the bottle was a printed massage written in choppy computer font.  It said only a single word:  “WINNER”.

(I was sure to ask later why this story was not accepted out of hopes of finding some kind of major flaw in my style that I am too inexperienced to spot. Instead I was told that the story was rejected because "Sprite would have made him more thirsty". I guess that means I bored them... sorry.)

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Princess and the Frog

Hello, Space Monkees.

This is going to be a hard post to write.  I actually saw this movie two weeks ago, and I've been avoiding penning this commentary.  No less than three times did I open up a new post window, and three times did I delete everything out of dissatisfaction with what I wrote.  Now here begins Try #4.  Let's see how it goes.

If I were in the target audience age bracket for "the Princess and the Frog", I would not have gone to see it, that much I can assure you.  If I were five to twelve, or whatever that arbitrary range the sales people at Disney had came up with, I would have immediately done a gag noise if I were asked to go see it.  Because this is a "girl's" movie, made entirely to fulfill the Princess Dream that all little girls have at some point.  As a child, my dream was to fly an X-wing and fight T-Rexes; not to put on lace and marry Prince Charming.  Being an incredibly immature person, I cannot help but suffer a bit, knowing that I have not stayed true to the person I was once.

But no matter.  These days its so hard to find classic 2D animation movies outside Miyazaki, I simply had to go see this movie out of the hopes that it could bring back "the good ol' days".  I remember being a little kid playing with mountains of plastic Disney VHS movies at the foot of Mommy and Daddy's bed.  There were so many great cartoons then:  "The Little Mermaid", "Aladdin", "The Lion King", "101 Dalmatians", "The Jungle Book", etc. etc. etc.  I could keep on naming these things until the end of the post if I so felt inclined.  So while Disney made this movie to expand their "Disney Princess" line into another shade of the politically correct racial rainbow, I'm here to celebrate a revival in the glorious tradition of 2D animation.

Obviously the fact that this movie tries to turn Black culture of Jim Crow New Orleans into yet another attraction in Disney's history gloss-over theme park means that its destined for endless controversy.  And where can I even stand in such a battle?  I have no clue.  The movie generally ignores pretty much all of the racial tensions of the time, moving them into the background of the painting.  Except for the state of the heroine, Tiana's economic position and one single throw-away line from a racist real estate agent, you might think that Jim Crow never happened at all.  Which is, suffice to say, a weird sort of choice.  There are all sorts of powerful stories that could have been told in this environment, only expanded to be more kid-friendly with some magic and Princess motifs.  Being "kid-friendly" should not mean that our history needs to be ignored because its unpleasant.  Then again, some of the more insane protesters for this movie are just looking for things to complain about.  "Tiana isn't dark-skinned enough!  The Black princess is turned into a frog, the White princesses stay human!  The main villain is a voodoo priest!"

I don't think Disney really ever intended for anything prejudiced.  They were just trying to be more inclusive with the Princess Club, and they found the Jazz Age New Orleans of the 1920s to be a visually and musically inspiring backdrop.  Its all really innocent, we should remember that.  So having navigated the minefield, I can now actually do a review.

Plot time!  Tiana, despite the title, is by no means a princess by birth.  Her father was a good, humble man with great dreams of opening a world-renowned restaurant named after his daughter.  Unfortunately, he's killed in WWI, with his dream far from being completed.  With her father's extremely vague advise of "remember what's important" Tiana takes up his mantel and works hard to save up the money, sacrificing the frivolous games of youth just so that she can get a few more dollars.  In the process she becomes a brilliant Cajun chef, and all this hard work does not at all spoil her good looks, naturally.  Thanks to her wealthy White girlfriend's need to impress an incoming prince (who may or not be African, his ambiguous skin color and Pepé Le Pew voice do not help at all), Tiana manages to finally get enough money to buy an old sugar factory.  But then those racist real estate agents I mentioned earlier ruin those dreams.  Desperate, Tiana decides to return to a childish idea:  wish upon a star.  (The lack of a "Pinocchio" music queue at this point is one of the movie's biggest missed opportunities.)

By the way, at some point here Tiana is supposed to have a character flaw.  I'm not sure what it is, and its one of my biggest complaints with this movie.  Its made incredibly clear that she needs to learn something fundamental, but whatever the heck it is I never figured out before or after her big adventure.  When faced with greater adversity, Tiana decides that she needs to work even harder, which causes the movie to let out a big ol' sigh of "she's not getting it".  Getting what?  I find her tenaciously and work ethic to already be a good role model already, I don't see what she's missing.  I really do hope that the answer here isn't a man, Disney.  I really do.  Having balance between career and life is a good thing, but when the situation is as slanted as Tiana's, does she really have room for a penis?

The penis in this movie is played by Prince Navi  --I mean, Prince Naveen a freeloading party goer who has so disgusted his royal parents that they've cut him off.  Naveen is luckily not just a pretty face Prince Charming, he has a character of his own.  Namely he's Pepé Le Pew with a conscious, so to speak.  So in search of money, he goes to New Orleans to marry Tiana's bratty White friend.  He also runs into a voodoo wizard played by none other than our old friend Mr. Keith David, the guy who almost saved "Dissidia Final Fantasy"!  Naveen is turned into a frog, and a doppelganger is put in his place.  Frog-Naveen runs into Tiana, who is in a nice dress on loan from Bratty White Friend.  Thus begins the movie's central irony.  After a kiss, Naveen is not turned into a human, but rather Tiana is turned into a frog too.  So they must go on a magical adventure across the bayou, run into a few annoying comic reliefs, fight the rednecks from "Deliverance", fall in love, save the day.

On the one hand I'm charmed by a Disney movie that's foward enough to make it obvious that its the man that needs to grow in order to get the woman.  He doesn't deserve her, that's obvious, so he must grow as a character.  But on the other hand that weird unmentioned character flaw that Tiana has really bugs me.  I'm pretty sure its somewhere where "staying true to what's important" is located.  I don't know what that is either, so the entire premise is lost on me.

On the other hand, the movie is quite good to look at.  This is what so-called "traditional" animation can do these days.  I really do not think in the slightest that we need to treat it as "old fashioned" or "yesterday's animation".  It still has a place in this world, I'm sure of that.  3D is nice, but it certainly does not need to be the only style.  At one point, Tiana gives her mother a tour of her future restaurant, all done in a style of 20s Art Deco advertisements.  Its a ever nice, striking style, and I can't help but wonder if this movie could have been improved if the entire thing was done this way.  Musically the movie keeps with the Disney standard, though I really can't actually remember much of it weeks later.

So now that we've reached some kind of wrapping up, let me give the final word.  Its an okay movie all around, a little shaky by its premise, but done quite well.  The fact that such an important plot point was lost on me is a real failing, as is the by and large avoidance of the Jim Crow situation.  I would have liked to see some Southern racists get whats coming to them, and Tiana to overcome them, magically or otherwise.  Is it as good as the classic Disney movies of my childhood?  Honestly no.  Pixar still has all the magic, but this is a small spark from the dying world of Disney animation.  Hopefully its a stepping stone to a greater renaissance.

Update:  Thinking back on this movie, I just realized something I didn't notice the first time. After a firefly character dies (for real, not a Disney Death), he is reborn as a star right next to his beloved North Star, which he calls "Evangeline".  So the ultimate conclusion here is that Timon from "The Lion King" was right.  Yes, the stars actually are fireflies that "got stuck up there".  There are probably more references to other classic Disney cartoons hidden in here, which is totally awesome.  "The Princess and the Frog" gets five points on the non-existent review scale.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Hello, Space Monkees!

This time, I absolutely promise, is nothing but stupid pointless, completely meaningless fluff.  Any life lessons you might learn from this commentary is completely accidental and unintended.  That doesn't mean you shouldn't live on that advise though.  Who knows?  It might just be the path to glorious Nirvana.

Seeing "Daybreakers" come to theatres is something of a bittersweet moment to me.  On the one hand, just seeing a vampire movie these days with the nice classic horror grit that old horror movies had back in the 90s ("From Dusk Till Dawn" is the best example - great movie!) return to form might have been enough to get my ass in the seat.  Also, that the movie would have such an original idea:  a dystopian future where vampires have taken over, and thanks to their ravenous ways, there's a shortage of human blood which could lead to the existinction of the human race.  Its brilliant.  Simple, chilling, and it leads inevitably to a horrible gory conclusion.  On the other hand...  I thought of it first!!!

It had to be ten years ago - at least - when I first came up with this idea.  I remember at the time I was reading a Goosebumps You-Choose-the-Scare book called "Please Don't Feed the Vampire!"  During one of the "bad" endings, you [now a vampire] are imprisoned by the elder vampires out of the fear that too many vampires would lead to depopulation of the human race, and would ruin everything.  That's when the idea occurred to me:  what if that actually happened?  I didn't really put together much of a narrative (I was really too long for that) but I had the broad strokes put together:

A small desert village after what appears to be the apocalyse is the hometown of the main characters.  However, it turns out to a 'Human Farm', where human populations are allowed to grow, until finally the vampires come out from their subterrian SciFi cities to drain them of blood, and add these to their population.  This is how things have worked for thousands of years, until the vampire population grows too large, no amount of blood can sustaine them, and all the humans are wiped out.  The main characters are turned, and slowly go insane from lack of blood along with the rest of the world.  Losing their minds, they bite each other, they bite animals, they even begin to suck their own blood.  The story ends with the main character, barely a husk of a body at this point, crawling out of the cities into the harsh desert sun, where he or she is killed off.

Yeah, its a little weird that I was imagining stuff like this as a kid. 

Anyway:   what did I do with this idea? Absolutely nothing, just like always! So this is why Hollywood beat me to the punch.  Arrg!  I'm still mad though!

So anyway, was "Daybreakers" a good movie?  It seems like such a great idea like "vampiric dystopia" simply cannot fail, so why even ask the question?

Well...  Its really only "okay".  Maybe I'm bitter over seeing my idea used first or something, but I still think this movie could have been done better.  The story deviates from my idea in a number of ways.  First of all, vampires are a new thing to this world.  In fact, "Daybreakers" only takes place in 2019, which leads to the central argument of the movie:  is it better to be human or vampire?  Its a silly moral question in terms of our everyday life, but its better than most horror movies can muster.  Also, in what I personally think is a truly brilliant move, lack of blood mutates the vampire citizens.  They transform into bat-winged Nosferatus.  So the vampire world is infested with mad inhuman creatures attacking people and stealing what little blood is left.  Its some really good ideas, but the turns the story makes are purposefully designed to avoid the incomping disaster that this story needed.

The cast works largely, though a few casting choices got me personally a little confused.  Having Ethan Hawke as your main hero in any dystopia movie will immediately make me scream "Gattaca", and for the longest time I was certain he playing that same general role; a regular human pretending to be one of the majority superhumans.  Oddly enough, the human resistance is lead by Willem Dafoe - the one actor in Hollywood who I am positively certain really is a vampire in real life, "Last Temptation of Christ" notwithstanding.  Look at Willem Dafoe for a moment, I'll give you it.  Now come back.  Tell me now that he isn't an honest to God vampire.  But that's just me.  The characters they played weren't the most deep people in the world, "Gattaca" this is not.

Most of the scares are purely of the typical "JUMP-AT-THE-SCREEN-AND-SCARE-THE-LIVING-SHIT-OUT-OF-YOU" horror variety.  How many times can you have a bat jump at the camera?  The answer is found in "Daybreakers".  There isn't very much of a the deeper, psychological scares of watching a society break down and seeing the human race transform into something inhuman.  I was expecting this to be a horror on a level like David Chroneburg's "The Fly".  In that there are no "scares", only the disgust of watching Jeff Goldblum's body continuously fall apart right in front of you.  Ultimately it all breaks down into a zombie movie, only striped down to purely the gory parts.

I will say this, the movie does seem to have its own sense of style.  There's almost a 50s sort of look to this piece.  The vampire waitresses are freindly and wear lots of lipstick, everybody is chain smoking, and Willem Dafoe loves talking about Elvis.  The simple visual effect of watching a world where everybody has fangs and pale skin is brilliant right there.  But there just isn't enough.  There should have been more 50s echos, more exploration of what American society is like when we're biting each other's necks.  I mean, they never even bothered to ask what the churches are doing these days now that their parishoners will turn into embers just by carrying rosary beads.  Its just a horror movie in the end.  And I think it could have been so much more.  For horror fans, this is a great little movie.  My internal Fangoria loved it.  But as for the rest of you, its probably not much worth remembering.

So let's wait twenty to thirty years, then hand me the remake.  I'll show you something that you'll never forget.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Raging Inferno

Hello, Space Monkees.

(Looking at my blog, I've noticed something...  Its so BORING.  Something very key is lacking.  And it should have occurred me a while ago what that was.   Pictures!  Duh!)

I don't think you've ever heard of this movie.  Neither did I until it came on TV last night.  Just let it be known, if there was anything better on, I wouldn't have started watching it.  I try to avoid B-movies as a general rule.  But if I must watch one, I'm ready to put on my snarky best and prepare to riff the Hell out of it.  So when "Raging Inferno" (2007) came on, I all good and ready for a fun evening of clever quips and laughs at the cornball acting and effects.  This seemed like a nice start for this blog, since I've been doing "serious" stuff last week, and this would break that spell and allow me to go back to the usual pointless bullshit.

Here's a little background information.  Back in the 1970s, "disaster flicks" became really popular.  You had movies like the "Airport" series and "The Poseidon Adventure".  The appeal was a simple one:  what if you and your family were caught in one of those disaster you see on the News.  These were never Academy Award winners, but they at least made enough of an impact on pop culture that remakes to them continue to spring every now again.  1974's "The Towering Inferno" was one of those movies.  Basically a skyscraper is on fire, people have to escape.  I'm not sure if this movie, "Raging Inferno" is an official remake, but the similarities are so many that you could never get away with calling this an "original film".

First thing I noticed when the movie started up:  the production company, Maverick Entertainment, has by far the worst looking logo thingy (I don't know the actual name) I've ever seen.  You know how at the beginning of the movies you see a little animation and the company logo of the distribution guys?  Well, Maverick Entertainment's animation is an extremely ugly CG horse that rides into a lazy logo.  I can only imagine what kind of person would look at this and say "wow, that's so much better than spending fifty bucks and filming a real horse".  This isn't a good sign.

Second thing I noticed:  its dubbed.  Maverick Entertainment must have hired voice actors to dub over the original, whatever language that might have been.  Seeing the laziness they put into their logo thingy, you can guess that these voice actors aren't exactly going to be winning any Academy Awards.  Also their voices have no connection with their lip movements, so I keep on expecting Godzilla to pop up and destroy whatever European city we're in.  Here's a weird bit:  in the movie there are two characters who speak a foreign language (I don't know which one).  Maverick Entertainment decided to dub these guys over too, but they kept the original German subtitles.  Not a good sign either.  I don't recognize that tower there, but looking at how Nordic everybody is looking, I'm guessing this is either Berlin, Stockholm, Oslo, or possibly Copenhagen.

Minutes later I cave and look this stuff up.  The original name of this movie is "Das Inferno - Flammen über Berlin".  From that its obvious that the city is Berlin, we're in Germany, and that the towering inferno here will be the Fernsehturm Berlin (called the "TV Tower" in the movie).  Here's a fun fact about the tower:  the dome's reflection happens to look like a Christian Cross, which has been taken to be an insult to the atheist Communist powers that formally ruled half this city for decades.  The tower is even nicknamed the "Pope's Revenge" and "St. Walter" popularly.  So perhaps this movie has some kind of anti-religious message to it?  I'm reading too much into this, probably.

So the usual happens with these disaster movies, we're introduced to loads and loads of characters, just regular folks like you and me.  Then the unexpected happens:  a fire breaks out.  Soon enough all of St. Walter's dome is up in flames, and people are running around covered in flames.  This the usual affair.  I'm even able to note with glee that there is a Black American tourist here with a Yankee cap on.  And he turns out to be a big hero, saving several random Germans with a fire extinguisher.  I bet no Mets fan would be that handy in an emergency!  I have a favorite character now.

Then... something strange happened.  All of sudden, fire fighters all around the city start pouring into the burning skyscraper.  A commander on the ground is sending his men up to the top.  And then a cabbie sees the Fernsehturm, and smoke is pouring out of its top...  Ugg... Suddenly this isn't funny any more.  You see where I'm going with this right?

9/11 was eight years ago, and still I get sick to my stomach thinking about that day.  It isn't like I personally lost anybody to the terrorist attack, but its not like the World Trade Center wasn't a part of my life.  I live in Bayonne, New Jersey, which is just across Hudson Bay from Brooklyn.  Just by going up a few stories in any house, I can just barely see the tips of the New York skyline.  My mother worked in the Twin Towers for years, and was evacuated from her office while pregnant with my baby sister during the first bombing in 1993.  Every time I went to New York I took the World Trade Center subway route in.  I must have been to those buildings one hundred times or more.  On 9/11, my class went up to the third floor of my grammar school, and we could see the smoke cloud pouring out of the towers before they fell.  For a full week, a huge smoke cloud billowed past over the bay.  To this very day, that empty space in New York is a constant visual reminder of that day.  I'm sure that my story is by far the very least of the horrible life changes that came after that day.  I lost next to nothing, thousands lost everything.

The fact there this is an empty space in the skyline after all these years is a testament to the waste, corruption, and incompetence surrounding the rebuilding effort.  There isn't even an official monument in New York yet.  The best thing New York has is the "Tear Drop Memorial" right here in Bayonne which was donated by the Russian Federation back in 2006.  And if we're going to be honest... the thing looks like a vagina.  Even so, it is criminally under-visited, and its a very nice little structure.

I can't really blame a German movie for being insensitive to a disaster that happened thousands of miles away and nearly a decade ago.  But I really couldn't keep on watching.

Maybe we can get back to stupid bullshit next time.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I'm Disgusted Part 2

Hello, Space Monkees.

As of a few hours ago, the NJ Senate vote to legalize same-sex marriage in the state of New Jersey failed in a predictable display of the cowardice of our representatives.  I am happy to say that my own state senator, Sandra Bolden Cunningham was one of the senators who voted for the measure.  Her speech before has been reported of special note, I commend her for that.  Cunningham will be getting my vote next time she is up for reelection - and I will be voting.  Trust me on that.  From the initial news outlets, I hear that five senators abstained from votes.  This is exactly what I meant by "cowardice" in my last post.  Are you so afraid of being judged harshly that you cannot even take a side?  I really do hope that people like this are voted out of office coming soon.  At the very least a vote was undertaken, which is actually more than I expected out of New Jersey politicians.

I've heard that there is an amendment in the works that would amend the New Jersey constitution to officially define marriage as between "a man and a woman" which would be voted upon in the state legislature.  Its most likely doomed to fail.  Luckily New Jersey has no system of referendums, where the voters can directly amend their constitution through vote.  This is how same-sex marriage has been banned largely throughout the nation:  by allowing the citizens to directly meddle with their state constitutions to single out minorities.  If you ever needed a more clear-cut example of what Alexis de Tocqueville called "the tyranny of the majority" here you go.  Congratulations, America.

I'm still disgusted.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

I'm Disgusted

Hello, Space Monkees.

New Jersey is and for some time now has been run by a group of horribly corrupt incompetent thieves and criminals.  That's the bare truth right there.  From the governor down to the local mayor offices, the entire system is a rotting husk of self-serving politicians, trying to steal as much as they can before the center falls apart.  I'm honestly afraid for the future of my state.  The democratic political machine that runs this state seems to more and more seem to be an organized crime syndicate than representatives of the people.  Last year's revelation that major government officials were involved in a black market organ-stealing scheme came as no surprise to any resident of this state that I've talked to.  Its gotten so bad here that such scandals are not cause for horror or outrage - they're just business as usual.  We expect our public servants to steal our body parts; we laugh at it.

So it should really come as no surprise that this state is also run by cowards.

And cowardly is the word for the actions of the state legislators this week.  Back in 2006, the NJ Supreme Court rules in the case of Lewis v. Harris that the NJ state constitution could not tolerate discrimination laws against same-sex couples.  (That's my topic here, same-sex couples.)  Following that decision the state legislature signed into law that same-sex couples could be joined in civil unions, just as long as those were not called "marriages".  So now if you're homosexual in the state of New Jersey, you cannot give out wedding rings, you must give "civil union rings".  You can't buy a wedding dress, its a "civil union dress".  You can't go to the church (assuming your denomination accepts same-sex marriages) and get married, instead you can only go for a "ceremony recognizing the beginning of a civil union".  Its ridiculous hypocrisy, and obviously needs to be amended.  However, with the defeat of - the admittedly incompetent - democratic governor Corzine by the conservative Christie, any bill that is passed by the legislature beyond the short lame duck period would be immediately vetoed.  This is why such a bill would need to be passed now.  Today.  Without a second to be spared.  Instead it has been bogged down thanks to the inherent lack of moral fiber of New Jersey's representatives, who clearly care more about preserving face by not joining a seemingly failing cause than do about preserving the equal rights of their constituents.

The really sad part is, New Jersey is one of the better states in this union on the issue of same-sex marriage.  This sad sideshow of a political process comes from a state that is on the enlightened spectrum on this issue.  As for the rest of our country, five states have legalized it and the District of Columbia is about to legalize it, Maine is in the same situation NJ is in, California formally did but that was defeated by a 2008 popular referendum to change their state constitution, New York recognizes same-sex marriages but does not perform them, some recognize a few rights, and the rest outright ban same-sex marriage either through law or by direct amendment to their state constitution.  Plus, at a federal level, thanks to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, all same-sex marriages are not recognized.  This is a disgraceful record, and all Americans should be ashamed.

I honestly cannot understand any sort of logical argument against same-sex marriage.  In all disputes, I try to follow Atticus Finch's sage wisdom of "seeing both sides" but here I simply cannot wrap my head around the opposition's logic.  Instead, all I see is an emotion:  fear.  Fear that the "gays" will get to marry and have families just like us.  And even worse, such fears point further down into naked horrible intolerance of another group of human beings.  Yes, there are many religious argument against same-sex marriage, but religion should never be any sort of justification for political policy.  That right there is against every single political tradition we have in this country.  George Washington may have been horrified by watching two men kiss, but I like to think he would be more horrified by watching legislators using the bible to decide things instead of the Constitution.

The most important question that can be asked about civil rights question is this:  "does giving rights to one group harm the rights of another?"  Here it doesn't, it just doesn't.  How does Ben marrying Steve affect Gwen marrying Cleve?  I've heard arguments that same-sex marriage somehow weakens the institution, the logic behind it alludes me.  There have been claims that children of same-sex couples somehow suffer psychological effects, since the natural family is that of a man and woman raising children.  This is has been more of less refuted by dozens of scientific studies; naming them all is an entire essay in of itself.  Some arguments exist purely in the realm of right-wing evangelical fiction:  the government will force your church to marry homosexuals, your son will be forced to marry Obama, your daughter will be stolen from you and given to some militant lesbians who will teach her to hate men by not submitting to their every sexual will.  Its the same sort of insane panic you hear on FOX News when they react with outrage that the 9/11 terrorists will be tried with due process.  Once people start shouting such arguments - worse believing them - all hope of rational discussion is lost.

Doesn't anybody see the dangers inherent in restricting marriage for one group?  For all the arguments about how same-sex marriage somehow destroys the institution, nobody seems to have realized that they are weakening it far more by giving the government the power to tell people who they or cannot marry.  What sort of standard are we setting here?  Worse yet, it gives the government the power to single out certain groups for discrimination.  For all the ludicrous right-wing fantasies about the liberal government taking over, they seem to have not seen this one.

You know what the saddest part of all this is?  President Obama, the most hated man in the entire country in the eyes of the right-wing evangelical movement, also stands against same-sex marriage.  I cannot go ahead and try to interpret what the man thinks in his heart of hearts, but from this you can only read one of two possibilities:  1) Obama is one of the fearful discriminatory masses who have not thought this through logically, or 2) he simply lacks the personal conviction to stand for what is right, instead choosing to sacrifice this issue in his grand realpolitik scheme.  What a shame.  What a regrettable, regrettable shame.

If any of you against same-sex marriage are out there and have some kind of logical argument to give, I'd love to hear it.  I want to just be a close-minded liberal fool who is too blinded to see the other side's argument, because if what I've outlined here is the case, then this country is in for some very dire consequences.  Tell me what I don't see.  I want to learn.

But if I am right, NJ legislator, you all should do the proper thing:  resign.  This affair has shown that you are too selfish and cowardly to ever hope to be a proper protector of your constituents' rights.  Worse yet, you cannot simply do what is right and moral.  How you reached such a place in your lives would make for an excellent morality play, but it does not make for good government.

I'm disgusted.

Correction:  I fear I may have made it seem like the vote was dead; like so many legislative measures, it had been killed in committee.  However, this is not the case.  The NJ Senate will in fact vote on this issue tomorrow, January 7th.  So you senators don't need to resign just yet, vote with your hearts.  And if you vote against the measure out of fear to follow your convictions, then resign on Friday.  I can understand opposing a bill because you feel it would harm the people of your state; that is noble (you're still wrong, but your intentions are good).  I cannot forgive spinelessness.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Worst Movies of the Decade

Hey, Space Monkees!

Yesterday I did my most epic post ever by reviewing the eleven best movies of the Naughts, and today I officially gave that decade a name by calling it "the Naughts" in this very sentence.  I'm very found of the decade I just named, and am pretty sad to see it go.

However, despite my recent run celebrating that span of ten years, I must also go into the what really pissed me off about the Naughts.  First of all, cellphones, they're loud, annoying, and they mean that anybody in the world can talk to me at any time.  Can't I get any peace and solitude?  Second of all, American Idol - enough said on the subject.  Third, the fact that these days there are about eighty ways for you show salutations through a hand gesture.  Back in the 90s it was just a handshake for formality, high-five if you're feeling funky.  Now we have pounding it, hand sliding, dapping, and a million other gestures.  Meeting with people has become an insane guessing game of numerous options, with every wrong guess now a gaping hole straight into an embarrassing faux pas.

But since my blog has a bizarre proclivity to commenting on technological works of fiction, here are the movies of the decade that really really got me unbelievably mad.  These were the massive disappointments, the wasted eight bucks and two hours in a dark (usually empty) theatre.


What the heck was that?  ...Must have been my imagination.  Anyway, its list time!  Since these movies are garbage, I'm not going to list them in any kind of order.  I'm not even going to give them numbers:
  • Jurassic Park III (2001):  The first two movies were great, but this third one was just awful.  I really don't know how awful, because I pretty much checked out after one particularly annoying sequence early on.  You see, the hero of the first two movies - the franchise logo - the T-Rex is killed off as soon as they get to Jurassic Park by some nobody new dinosaur with a silly fin.  You don't kill off my favorite dinosaur like that!  Movie ruined, franchise dead.  Get me my money back.
  • Halloween (2007):  A remake of the 1978 horror classic I so loved as a little kid.  Only it completely misses the point of the movie.  Slasher movies are not about the killer.  Who cares about the killer?  They're nobody, just an empty vessel of darkness, more animal than man.  You didn't need to explain where Michael Myers came from, and even if you did, it didn't have to be so...  mudane.  Then the rest of the movie is just the same old slasher affair.  Snore.
  • The Good Shepard (2006):  Here's a very clear sign of danger right from the start:  insufferable running-joke of a film critic Armond White liked this movie.  First of all, its boring.  I mean, unbelievably boring.  You've seen Matt Damon in good movies, I'm sure, he can be a leading man.  Instead here he's a poker-faced patriot, generally lacking a single moral bone in his body.  Its "Syriana" boring, only without the George Clooney scenes.  Wait, Matt Damon was in that movie too...  Huh.  Well, here he's a "realistic" spy, an anti-James Bond.  And trust me, by the end of this almost three-hour movie, you'll miss James Bond.  Quite simply, the worst sin is not the dullness of this feature, its the lack of any kind of moral center.  Matt Damon plays a despicable character, fooled by class snobbery into a misguided sense of duty, yet at no point does the movie ever attempt to speak against him.  There's no Michael Corleone all alone with his crimes like at the end of "Godfather 2". Only more boredom.  I'm offended, moving on. 
    (Yes....  Get angry.  Get angry!)

    What the heck is that?  Are you Space Monkees hearing somebody talking?
    • Transformers (2007 - 2009):  They're simply bad.  Next movie.
    • Mulholland Drive (2001):  A positively infuriating film.  It begins as your basic murder mystery plot, lots of weird things happen, but you're sure by the end that it will all come together.  And you're even treated to a lovely lesbian love scene with Naomi Watts.  Yay!  Then you realize the movie only has twenty minutes left, and it is nowhere near solving anything.  Then the two main characters watch some kind of weird song, and everything stop making any sense.  Tiny old people chase Naomi through her house, she's actually three different people, something about a key, what the heck is going on???  Credits.  No answers.  Its just another David Lynch joke.
    • Brokeback Mountain (2005):  Supposedly some kind of major breakthrough for homosexuality in cinema.  At least that's what I was told.  Instead its basically just another forlorn love story - only with men.  And there is no chemistry at all, just one second they're herding sheep, the next they're madly in love with each other.  I think director Ang Lee just flipped some Plot Contrivance switch.  Also notably bad for having every single one of the late Health Ledger's lines completely incomprehensible.  And it also loses ten points for that stupid "I wish I could quit you" joke that long lived past its lifespan.
    (HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!  Unleash the fury!  Rage!  Fume!  Rip those movies apart, Blue!)

    Okay, I am definitely hearing something.  Who the heck is that??

    (Nothing you need to concern yourself with...  Just keep on listing.  Hehehehe....)

    Umm...  right.  Just be quiet, creepy italics voice.
    • House of the Dead (2003):  The arcade video game series had terrible voice acting and a terrible storyline.  But even so, infamous director Uwe Bole managed to make something even worse.  The action doesn't make sense, the effects are laughable, and the plot is ludicrous.  In a decade filled with unbelievably terrible horror movies, this somehow manages to take the cake.
    • Star Wars:  The Clone Wars (2008):  A disaster of epic proportions.  This decade has not been kind to the Star Wars franchise, with mediocre movie coming after mediocre movie.  Episode III sort of improved things, but it was very far away from the classics of the 70s and 80s.  This CGI cartoon is not really a theatrical motion picture - its just an extended pilot to a Cartoon Network TV show.  But it was released a movie, so it must be judged as a movie.  And it was terrible.  Cringeworthy dialogue, a mindless weak plot, and absolutely nothing in the least bit exciting happening here.  I walked out of the theatre.  Yes, I walked out on a Star Wars movie.  It may not have been the worst movie of the decade, but it was certainly the worst experience I've ever had in a theatre since...  well, ever.  On the list, this must be.
    • Southland Tales (2007):  A complete wreck of a movie.  Absolutely incomprehensible from beginning to end.  There might have been a real storyline someplace within this over-populated and over plotted mess of a movie, but it never made it to the screen.  Instead director Richard Kelly decided to make the Worst Movie Ever Made.  Thank God its completely unknown, or else more people might have had to suffer through this disaster of a movie.  Usually when I rent a bad movie, I'm there just for the "so bad its hilarious" factor.  But this is not even entertaining on that level.  What a mess...  I'm almost at a loss for words-
    (Oh, having trouble are we?  Then allow me to step in.  This movie is shit!  Absolute eye-peeling, nose bleeding shit.  The kind of shit that makes you question if in fact there is a Kind and Loving God.  The kind of shit makes you hate the entire universe for allowing such an abomination to ever exist.)

    Whoa!  Whoa!  Calm down, dude!  Creepy Italics Voice, I hate "Southland Tales", but I don't hate it that much.  There can't possibly be anything that bad.

    (Oh, but you're mistaken, Blue.  You are mistaken.  You DO hate "Southland Tales" that much.  Only you're too much of a coward to say so yourself, you stupid bitch.)

    Hey, that's not very nice...  Who the heck are you, anyway?

    (Only yourself, you stupid little bitch.  Only yourself...)

    Okay...  That's weird and cryptic and all, but that doesn't actually make any sense.  And can you watch the language.  Cursing is fun, but we don't need swim in it.

    (It doesn't have to make sense!  I'm talking in italics, bitch!  I'll curse all I want.  FUCK YOU!!  And this stupid little blog of yours can go fuck itself too!)

    Jeeze, guy.  What the heck is your problem?

    (My problem is you!  You, bitch!  You just sit there, trying to act all composed, when all you really want to do is unleash your anger.  Be angry, destroy these movies!  Let them suffer for all the pain they've caused you!  Its time to bu-)

    I don't think that anything I say would ever cause these movies or the people who made them any pain.  Its a waste of time, Creepy Italics Voice.  I'm actually getting a little tired of this nonsense.  Can you get to your point, whatever it is?

    (Shut up!  I'm on a rant here, bitch!  Don't you know who I am?  I'm you!  An avatar of your own anger that you've been surpressing out of some kind of silly idea of being "polite".  You make me sick, motherfucker.)

    Okay, that's enough.  You are not me.  And I don't think anybody would ever call me "polite".

    (Yes I am!)

    Am not.

    (Am too!)

    Am not.

    (Am too!)

    Am not.

    (Am too times million!  Take that, bitch!)

    Okay, get out of here, whoever you are.

    (No I won't!  My name is RedHighwind, and I not going to leave!)

    Oh so you're not me!


    Yeah get out of here, or I'll call the cops, you sick little weirdo!

    (.....Okay.  I'll go.  But this isn't the last of me that you'll see!  No!  I'll be backkkkkkkkkkk!!!!!!!  HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!)

    ....That was weird.

    What the heck was I talking about?  I don't remember.  Let's end this post right here.

      Sunday, January 3, 2010

      Movies of the Decade

      Hello, Space Monkees.  This is my longest post ever!

      As you may or may not be aware, the very first decade of the third millennium has ended.  Its been a nice decade, a few wars notwithstanding, and I'm certain that the next decade will be even better!  Looking back upon the decade that has passed, I was in a little bit of a rut as to judge it according to the proper teachings of the Q?.  I could have told a touching tale of a young naive boy entering the decade, feeling that the world was a curse put upon him, and then eventually learning to see the beauty of life, and finally leaving the decade as a far more mature and confident man.  But I know that would bore you, so instead here's a list of the Top 11 Movies of This Decade!

      But before we begin to name them, here's a few ground rules to the list.  They are not named in order of any quality since trying to decide which one of these eternal classics is better than the other is a question so difficult and picky that it would drive me mad.  No, this is quite simply a list of the movies that I've enjoyed the most over the decade, be it for great storylines, lovable characters, astonishing visuals, deep moral lessons, or just making me giggle like I was in Kindergarten again.  There are probably other great movies out there, but they can't be on the list unless I've seen them.  Hopefully one day I'll be able to enjoy those too - be sure to tell me if I've missed anything.

      This of course is all being done instead of naming the best movies of 2009, which is quite frankly impossible for me since I haven't seen so many films that I suspect will be good for the past year.  I mean, how can I make a list when there's still a Miyazaki film out there that I haven't seen?  How?

      So without further ado, let us begin:

      1. Gladiator (2000):  One of many films on this list that, much to my surprise, are Academy Awards Best Picture Winners.  This the story of General Maximus (Russell Crowe), a conquering general in the Roman Army, who is caught in a power struggle between the aging Emperor Marcus Aurelius and the mad prince Commidus (Joaquin Phoenix).  Commidus kills his father, steals the throne, makes creepy sexual advances on his sister, but makes a fatal mistake:  he murders Maximus's family, and sells the general into slavery.  Maximus becomes a gladiator, and through his sheer badass skills, wins the hearts of the entire Roman populace.  It is then up to him to save Rome from a mad emperor, and get revenge for his slain family.  The storyline is a meshing of numerous historical events from the Roman period, spanning hundreds of years from Spartacus to Caligula and beyond.  Every performance is spot-on, and the film relishes its own epic scale and story, with characters always remarking on how amazing these turns of events are.  This is the Russell Crowe movie, certainly the performance he is going to be remembered for forever.  A kickass action movie with plenty of political drama, all coupled with a strong emotional core, usually seen in Maximus's touching flashbacks to his lost family in the golden fields of Spain.  Too epic to be ignored, it has to be on this list.
      2. Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001 - 2003):  Without a doubt the best High Fantasy movies ever made, this is the probably the best flowing film series ever made.  Based on J.R.R. Tolkien's three volume fantasy book "The Lord of Rings", these three movies were not made in the usual scatter-shot Hollywood way of making one film, stopping all production to check for a profit, then going back to shoot another film with a often a completely different cast, director, and style.  Instead, the films were shot back to back for several years.  You can actually sit down for an entire day and watch all three films consecutively without feeling any real difference between each film.  So for that reason, you cannot possibly count one movie as being better than the others, as its really only one giant movie.  A true cinematic triumph for which you much give credit to director Peter Jackson.  The plot and characters are all very complicated, far too much for these simply overviews, but what you must know is that its a world-wide battle between good and evil, with the all hopes of all being placed on two small creatures known as Hobbits and the evil Ring of Power they carry.  There's the largest and most dramatic battles ever put on screen, a wonderful storyline, and a great booming soundtrack that has defined the modern sound for an "epic movie".  Easily one of the best candidates for "a second Star Wars", and definitely worth watching hundreds of times.
      3. Spirited Away (2002):  Anime director Hayao Miyazaki has had an amazing film career, making so many great children's films that it is not without exaggeration that he is often called "Japan's Walt Disney".  Personally I've gone out of my way to try to see each and every one of his films that he's made with his legendary Studio Ghibli.  The man knows how to create a magical world for both children and adults to enjoy, without following the recent American trappings of throwing in pointless pop culture references and parodies that distract from the narrative.  "Spirited Away" is without a doubt his most magical effort yet, but hopefully not the greatest we'll see out of the man.  The story is that of ten-year-old Chihiro (Daveigh Chase), who is moving to a new town with her parents one day when they stumble upon an abandoned theme park.  But when Chihiro's parents eat some cursed food, they are turned into pigs, and she is thrown into a strange bathhouse for mythical animal spirits on the other side of reality.  During the film, she matured from being something of a brat to a responsible young girl who finds the courage to save herself and her parents from this Japanese-style Wonderland.  A gorgeous film, and a brilliant one.  All of Miyazaki's movies are masterpieces, but this one is just a step above.
      4. Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003):  Unlike the perfect flow of the "Lord of the Rings" movies, the Pirates Trilogy certainly cannot be called all one film.  The first one is something of its own unit, and the second and third movies seem to fit more into their own little story.  And since there's another... ugg... sequel planned, I really cannot lump them all into a single entry like I did before.  But that doesn't mean that the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie is any less of an adventure thrill ride.  Welcome to the vague world of 18th century pirate cliches, home to swashbuckling pirates, dark mysterious magic in the new world, and the delicious Kira Knightley.  There isn't much of an emotional core to this movie, its all largely action adventure and spectacle.  However, without spectacle, movies would be a bore, so "Pirates of the Caribbean I" cannot be discounted as anything other than an extremely fun movie to watch over and over again.  Plus you have the antics of Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) - easily the best movie character of the entire decade - to always keep you entertained.  I'm not a deep person, so I love this movie.
      5. Finding Nemo (2003):  What Miyazaki is for Japan these days, Pixar is for America.  When I was a tiny little kid, we had "Toy Story", and it was awesome.  Little did I know that years later Pixar would continue on an incredible fireball winning streak that has continued to this very day (except for "Cars", but I like to pretend that movie didn't happen).  My theory is this:  in the late 90s, Pixar used black magic to steal Disney's creative soul, thus allowing it to create movies like "Finding Nemo" while Disney was embarrassing us all with "Treasure Planet" and "Chicken Little".  Out of all the movies on this list, I've probably seen "Finding Nemo" the most, if only because of how amazingly quotable it is.  "Fish are friends not food!"  Little Nemo (Alexander Gould) is a child clown fish living with his overprotective father, Marlin (Albert Brooks).  The reason why Marlin is so overprotective?  Well, its a very sad story, and one of the many touching emotional scenes of this great animated film.  Nemo is stolen by some Australian dentists, and so Marlin must travel the seas, running into wacky characters in order to save his son.  Its a great family film, and for some time Pixar's best.  Well, until the robot titan that's on its way...
      6. Crash (2004):  This is not a family film.  It is not a happy-go-lucky adventure that the everybody young and old can enjoy.  However, its no "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" either.  "Crash" is a series of interconnected stories exploring the racial tensions and violence just under the surface in Los Angeles.  Some characters will find redemption, others will fall into further darkness, it all depends upon the random shuffle of fate, portrayed here through the ever-constant movement of cars on the city streets.  Despite this, it seems to fall more on the positive side of events, with characters often being saved (in one case by what seems like an act of God) then being defeated.  Some have criticized this as being a saccharine washing over of the deep historical inequalities that have created America's racial tensions.  I see it as a good sign - that we as a culture can hope for a happy end to such disputes.  Fiction is the dreams of the cultural consciousness.  If we're dreaming of continual hatred and violence, that that is all we shall receive.  Naturally film critic Armond White, the self-appointed master of all cinematic racial themes, fumed about this film (quote:  "No, we can't just all get along." - what a lovely human being), which is a better recommendation for "Crash" than I could ever give it.
      7. The Departed (2006):  Mobster movies are always a lot of fun.  You get to see the gritty violent underbelly of our culture through the eyes of the thugs, who are often shown into the brightest of lights before the curtain is thrown off and you see the monster underneath.  This is why I loved "The Sopranos" through and through - until the ending of course.  "The Departed" is Martin Scorsese's return to his mob form, which he had neglected for many years following 1995's "Casino".  Its a complicated sort of plot:  you have Colin Sullivan (Matt Damon) who is a rat for the mob working the the Boston Police Force, and then there's his rival, William Costigan (Leonardo DiCaprio) who is an undercover cop within the Irish Mafia gang run by the Frank Costello (Jack Nicholson), who may not be the Devil himself, but he's definitely one of the Devil's best human freinds.  The respectable cop is the villain, while the Southie thug is the hero, its a very nice bit of reversal, leading straight to a tragic ending.  Awesome movie, on the list it goes.
      8. WALL-E (2008):  I love watching this movie like I never had a movie before.  If I dared be so bold as to call it the movie of the decade, I would.  But I can't, I simply could not insult the other films on this list by placing one above the others.  This is without a doubt Pixar's great movie - if they could ever top this effort, I would be both stunned and an extremely happy man.  Thousands of years into the future, the Earth has become nothing but an empty garbage-filled wasteland.  Luckily we have little WALL-E, the most adorable little robot you'll ever meet.  Through the magic of classic musical movies, WALL-E has discovered love.  But who is there to love when you're stuck in an post-apocalyptic Earth?  Luckily he is joined by the Ipod-looking advanced robot EVE, who has come to Earth to find samples of life so that humanity can return.  This movie is WALL-E's personal adventure to find love, and in the process return the raw emotions that we call "humanity" to the bloated fat comsumer culture that we humans have become in outer space.  Its a strange movie that is a metaphor for itself, but "WALL-E" pulls it off in style.  Unlike most animated pictures, this one is almost devoid of dialogue:  very little is spoken for the first hour.  But it works.  Through old-style silent movie slapstick, you get to love these CGI robots more than most characters played by real humans.  I cannot recommend "WALL-E" highly enough.  Definitely one of my favorite movies ever.
      9. The Dark Knight (2008):  At the beginning of this decade, superhero movies were quickly becoming one of the most annoying genres out there.  In between the acceptable films like "X-Men", there were at least ten completely uninspired and emotionally dead efforts like "Daredevil", "Hulk", "Fantastic Four"... etc. etc., I could list crap all day if I had to.  But today is the day I list gold, so onto "The Dark Knight", the best superhero movie ever made!  The sequel to the excellent "Batman Begins", "The Dark Knight" sees Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale) see his greatest foe yet - the Joker (the late Heath Ledger) who has unleashed a reign of terror on Gotham to defeat the Caped Crusader.  This is a movie where the stakes are taken to such an extreme, that you feel the raw emotions of a desperate city brought the brink of chaos by a lunatic on desperate to prove his nihilistic philosphy - no matter how many have to die.  "The Dark Knight" would have been just been a really really awesome bit of action flick (goddamn that truck flipping part is cool!) if not for the chilling performance of Heath Ledger, who steals this show right into a postumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar.  Easily the darkness superhero movie yet, and probably an impossible standard to top.  However, if anybody could do it, director Christopher Nolan would be the man.  I'm waiting for "Batman 3" with lots of hope.
      10. Slumdog Millionaire (2008):  Was 2008 a great year for movies, or the greatest year for movies? Really tell me. There were so many great movies that year, no less than three on this list!  Even so, only one managed to make it onto the list of Best Picture nominations, which was downright criminal for the classic movies of "WALL-E" and "The Dark Knight".  Luckily "Slumdog Millionaire" was there to save us from having dull bitter pessimism like "The Reader" win Best Picture.  This is the story of Jamal (Dev Patel, Ayush Mahesh Khedekar, Tanay Chheda), a poor boy in the slums of Mumbai, who is about to win the Indian version of "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?". Why is he about to win? Well, because every one of the questions corresponds to a moment in his difficult life with his antihero brother Salim (Madhur Mittal, Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail, Ashutosh Lobo Gajiwala), and his the love of his life, Latika (Freida Pinto, Rubina Ali, Tanvi Ganesh Lonkar). I won't give away much of the plot, but I will say this:  "Slumdog Millionaire" is probably one of the most feelgood movies I've ever seen, without ever feeling cheap or contrived.  Fate has decided to step in on Jamal's life (this is told to you in the very first moment of the movie), and you should just sit back and enjoy his victory with him.  A great movie with a great soundtrack, all leading up to a wonderful Bollywood dance scene in the end.  Why have a Bollywood dance?  Why not have a Bollywood dance??
      11. Coraline (2009):  Wow, I lot of my picks are kid's movies, aren't they?  Either I can appreciate the efforts of film makes to bring wonder to younger audiences, or I'm suffering from one of the worst cases of Peter Pan Syndrome ever.  "Coraline" is something like an American "Spirited Away", though that would be discrediting the movie's own indepedent spirit.  Based on a Neil Gaiman novel, this movie shows us young Coraline (Dakota Fanning), a neglicted little girl who has just moved into a new house.  While her patents are busy working, Coraline stumbles into a magical fantasy world where everything is absolutely perfect... except for one tiny detail.  Everybody there has buttons for eyes.  Things take a turn for the dark, as Coraline must escape from what she thought was a wonderful dream, but what is actually a nightmare.  The stop-motion animation works well, as characters have a unique style.  Its also fun watching stop-motion being used to create the real world.  Bringing together the entire film is an enchanting French score that you can listen to over and over again.  This is a movie so good that even unbelievably pompous out-of-touch film critic, Armond White couldn't hate it.  Though "Coraline" was an early 2009 film, it is still a great movie for us to end a great decade of film on.
      And so that is that.  We have finally reached the end of our little tour through the best that the 2000 - 2009 decade had brought us in film.  What will the next decade bring us?  I can only imagine.  But I'm sure the medium of film will continue to amaze all of us as it continues through the ages.

      See you in ten years when I'll be counting down the best films of the 2010 - 2019 decade!