Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Stand-Up Comedy Review: “Patton Oswalt: My Weakness is Strong”

In many ways I fit into the classic definition as a geek, but not all of my geekly obsessions are the usual suspects. Yes, there’s Star Trek and comic books and Buffy the Vampire Slayer and fan fiction and all of the other things that make you picture me pushing up my taped up horn rimmed glasses whenever I talk about them (for the record, my glasses are neither taped nor horn rimmed, they are quite stylish). But among my chief obsessions in life is something that few people think of when they think of geeks, and that’s stand-up comedy. It started early, when I was a kid, ironically enough in the 80’s, when stand-up comedy wasn’t very good. I watched MTV’s Half-Hour Comedy Hour, VH1’s Stand-Up Spotlight, A&E’s An Evening at the Improv, and I rented every stand-up concert that I could find at the video store. I will admit, my early tastes weren’t very sophisticated. It’s true, I used to like Gallagher. There, I said it, I feel better now. And then one day I rented “Carlin at Carnegie”, and my world changed forever. George Carlin continued to be a hero of mine up into adulthood and still is today, influencing my current tastes in comedy still. Thankfully the 80’s ended, and stand-up comedy got a lot better and continues to do so. Smarter, darker, more edgy, more relevant. So for this feature, I’ll be reviewing some of my favorite stand-up concerts from today and yesterday. And for my first review, I’m going to start with the latest special from my favorite comedian working today, Patton Oswalt.


Oddly enough one of the main themes of this special is something that longtime fans of Patton never would have guessed he could ever touch on, impending fatherhood. Once the angry, nerdy bridge troll of comedy who once lamented on how it’s not okay for people to even be holding babies in his presence, because they are essentially tiny shirtless humans with bags of their own crap tied around their waists, this is major news. Patton informs the audience of the news in his own unique way (“I hate, I hate, it is all I am capable of, you knew that when you took my seed woman!”) and then laments on how much he’ll miss the drugs that he has to give up. Far from dulling his edge, Patton’s new found mature and responsible lifestyle only gives him a new perspective on the world, one that he can apply his ever sharp wit to. There are several more bits in the special that showcase the more domestic side of our favorite height challenged misanthrope. There’s one about trick-or-treaters coming to his house, and another about how in the process of house hunting, he and his wife came across the morning aftermath of an orgy. All of it is hilarious.

Patton tackles religion in this special as well, explaining it as a way for the weaker of primitive man to keep the strong from killing them, by promising sky cake in the afterlife. It’s a simple analogy that goes a long way toward explaining the way religion is used to control people, and also to point out the ridiculousness in killing each other over the details of whatever sky dessert happens to await us in the world beyond (It’s not sky cookies, it’s sky CAKE! I’ll kill you, I’ll kill you all!).

And of course, Patton touches on politics as well. His legendary vitriol against George W. Bush makes a brief appearance as he segues into talking about Obama/Biden, and how the White House has become the setting for an 80’s buddy cop movie. He also laments on the possibility of traveling back through time just a scant ten years so he can blow his own mind by telling himself that we in the future have elected a black man with the middle name of a dictator as president of the United States. Crazy.

But even with the old standbys of politics and religion, I think Patton truly shines when he’s relating more personal experiences from his life. His insights and his twist on things are always funny, and always thought provoking. The man’s edge remains fully intact.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Way Too Late Movie Review: "X-Men Origins: Wolverine"

This one has to be a new record for me. According to Netflix, “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” was shipped to me on October 15. I just watched it this past weekend. What can I say, never do today what you can put off until tomorrow. I have to say that I liked it, it delivered what it promised, at least in my mind. Some kickass action sequences, Wolverine’s backstory, good character moments, lots of appearances by other mutants that we haven’t seen before.

Liev Schreiber has to be one of my all time favorite actors, and he does a great job in this as Victor Creed (aka Sabertooth). In the comics Wolverine and Sabertooth’s pasts were always mysteriously linked, and in some continuities Sabertooth is actually Wolverine’s father. But making them brothers I thought was a nice touch. It added pathos to the relationship and made their turn to enemies that much more tragic. In Victor we see what Logan could be if he truly did let the animal in him take full control. But despite his brother’s savagery, Logan defends him, even killing to protect him. In the war montage at the beginning of the film, we see that these two violent and savage men never have a shortage of military conflicts to keep their skills busy, proving that no matter how vicious they are, the world is always more so. And the only thing that these two brothers have is each other. But when they join Stryker’s Team X, Logan finally finds the limit to the brutality that he will endure, and he leaves the team and his brother behind. Victor sees this as a betrayal, and Stryker manipulates him and his anger to bring Wolverine back to him, so that he can experiment on him to create his ultimate mutant weapon. Wolverine escapes, and unleashes his animal on Victor and Stryker both.

In Wolverine’s scenes with Silverfox, we see the kind of man that he wants to be, and we see the life that he could have had. That’s what makes her “murder” so devastating. Silverfox, the couple that take him in after he escapes from Weapon X, every glimpse at normalcy that he gets is violently ripped away. Silverfox’s betrayal at the end literally brings him to his knees. He finds out that not only was his chance at a normal life taken from him, he never had it in the first place. His reality is crumbling around him. But in the end, his love for her wins out, and he goes back to save her, to save all of the mutants. This is the conflict that has always been central to the character, what he is versus who he is. The violent animal versus the hero. I think the movie did a good job in portraying this.

The Rest:

Ryan Reynolds did a great job as Deadpool. He struck just the right balance of humor and action that the character demands. My only complaint would be that he wasn’t in the movie long enough. But of course, Deadpool will be getting his own movie soon enough. It just makes me wish that we could have gotten that Flash movie with Ryan Reynolds that we were promised, it would have been killer. The Weapon XI fight at the end was cool, and I loved the way that his eyes darkened to resemble Deadpool’s mask from the comics when he used Cyclops’ power, and the way his severed head kept firing optic blasts all the way down the tower as it fell. One logistical question though: Those retractable swords would make it impossible for him to bend his elbows when they’re retracted, seems kind of inconvenient. How does he wipe his ass? But then, with no mouth, he can’t eat, which means he wouldn’t need to go to the bathroom. So if he doesn’t need to eat, how does he get nutrients? I’m not trying to be a dick or anything, I’m not saying that these questions ruined the movie for me. I’m just curious.

The Blob even got a fair shake, I thought. Sure, he might have been played for laughs during his fight with Wolverine, but they still showed him as a powerful mutant and not a complete moron. And the fat suit didn’t look nearly as ridiculous as I thought it would. In fact, I’d say they did a better job with Blob than X3 did with Juggernaut.

Gambit I was a little disappointed with. Maybe it’s because he’s always been one of my favorite characters, but I just felt like they could have done it so much better. First of all, they didn’t get his eyes right. Gambit is supposed to have black eyes with red pupils. I know it’s a small detail, but I think it would have gone a long way toward making us feel like this was really gambit if they would have done that, especially since they didn’t keep anything from his costume, or even his personality really (apart from him and Wolverine not getting along too well). And I didn’t like they way they casually threw in that origin for his name, the guards on the island called him Gambit because he used to beat them at cards. Really? Does that sound like something a bunch of prison guards would come up with? If that’s really where his name came from, wouldn’t it be ‘That Fucker Who Keeps Beating us at Cards’? His powers were done well, and the fight scene with him and Wolverine was done well, but that then leads to another major problem I have. At the end of that scene, Wolverine has Sabertooth dead to rights, and Gambit stops him from killing him. Why? It was well established that Gambit had no love for Sabertooth, if he really thought that they were there to take him back to the island why wouldn’t he have just escaped when he had the chance? It doesn’t make sense.

In the end, Weapon XI is dead but Stryker manages to erase Wolverine’s memories with an adamantium bullet to the brain, leaving him in the state we find him in the first X-Men movie. The mutants on Stryker’s island are rescued by Professor Xavier, and Wolverine sets out on his own. All in all, it was a good movie. And it leaves me excited for the Deadpool and Magneto movies that have been promised to come.

My Netflix Rating: Four out of Five Stars

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Top 7 Ways to Get F-ed up in the Future

One interesting thing that I’ve observed from my years of watching Star Trek is that despite the utopian nature of the future depicted, humans (and aliens alike) still haven’t lost the need to dull their senses and escape into the loving embrace of booze once in a while. I mean, practically every starship or space station we’ve seen has a bar in it. That should tell you something.

Star Trek: The Next Generation introduced us to the idea of synthahol, a synthetic alcohol substitute which tastes and smells just like the real thing, but doesn’t really get you drunk. Talk about missing the point entirely. Why would you want to drink something that tastes like gasoline if you’re not at least going to get buzzed on the stuff? For the purposes of this list, I’m sticking to the real thing.



Bajoran Springwine



Religion and wine go together like, well, religion and fanaticism. And since the Bajorans are Star Trek’s go to race for religion allegories, it makes sense that they be given their own wine. The Bajorans have been making it for centuries from fermented kava fruit, so there is a sense of tradition that goes with it. And like seemingly all space-faring races in Star Trek, the first and best reminder of the comforts of home that you bring into space with you is something that can fuck you up.


Saurian Brandy

Always shown in a very phallic looking bottle, that can mean only one thing. It will fuck you up. Of all of the alcoholic beverages on Star Trek, this is probably mentioned the most, going all the way back to the original series. It’s usually referred to as being strong, and seems to have a reputation as a classy drink, enjoyed by civilized peoples. It’s mentioned with reverence, and bottles of it may be saved for years for a particularly special occasion. Basically, if rappers exist in the 24th Century, this is what they will be passing instead of the Courvoisier.



Tulaberry Wine

Remember how prohibition in the United States gave organized crime a foothold, what with their illegal bootlegging and such. And then after prohibition was repealed, they moved on to drugs, prostitution, extortion, murder, and all that fun stuff. Well, think of the Dominion as Al Capone and Tulaberry wine as his hooch, it’s how they got their foot in the door so to speak. Grand Nagus Zek sent Quark to the Gamma Quadrant for the purpose of acquiring a large amount of Tulaberry wine, more than the local producers could handle, for the express purpose of getting the attention of the Dominion. Anyone who remembers the last two seasons of DS9 knows how well that worked out*.

*not well.


Kanar

From my vast stores of Star Trek knowledge, I surmise that the perfect evening for a Cardassian, after a hard day of oppressing the indigenous population of whatever planet whose resources you’re stealing, would be to curl up on a nice hot rock and drink a glass of motor oil. Kanar may not be motor oil exactly, but it’s black and viscous (at least most of the time) and it’s good for getting well lubricated. Garak drank Kanar when the pleasure chip in his head stopped working. Damar drank Kanar when he was head of the Cardassian Union and the Dominion had him under their thumb. So I guess it’s good for making your forget your troubles.

Considering that in the mornings Cardassians like to drink a beverage that has been described as cold fish juice, what exactly Kanar tastes like is anyone’s guess. Since Cardassia has no agriculture to speak of, I like to think that it’s made of fermented rocks, or maybe ground up puppy dogs.


Aldebaran Whiskey


“It is…it is…it is green.”

What more is there to say about a beverage so nondescript that its chief feature seems to be its neon green color? That, and getting you promptly trashed. So when Scotty wanted to drink away his sorrows after finding himself aboard the Enterprise D, most of his friends dead, his once prominent engineering skills now 80 years out of date, Data reaches behind the counter and pulls out something that will get right on top of his boo-boo. It’s from Guinan’s private stash, so you know it’s good.

For those of you who recognize the color, the answer is yes, it’s Ecto-Cooler. There’s just something about Scotty and Picard sitting on the bridge of the original Enterprise, passing a bottle of Ecto-Cooler between them, it makes me smile.

PS: I miss Ecto-Cooler.


Romulan Ale

The Cuban cigars of alcoholic beverages in the future, in that it is illegal and yet seemingly not that hard to obtain (note: I have never actually attempted to obtain either Cuban cigars or Romulan Ale, so I have no idea exactly how difficult it would be. I’m just having a guess). The drink is highly intoxicating, even for Klingons (who have a notoriously strong constitutions), and resembles the blue stuff that barbershops use to soak combs in. This also appears to be the one drink from the series that is most replicated in the real world. There’s a beer, an energy drink, and several make at home recipes including everything from Bacardi rum to Blue Curacao liqueur. Or if you’re cheap, vodka and blue raspberry kool-aid works nicely.


Klingon Bloodwine

So if Bajoran Springwine is light and fruity and reminds you of springtime, Klingon Blood wine is dark and heavy and reminds you of war and murder. It’s made of blood after all (whose blood, we’re not sure). And is it any wonder that no Klingon vessel leaves port without a healthy supply of the stuff. Life aboard a Klingon ship is hard. You sleep on a shelf, your clothing is covered in spikes so every time you bump into a wall you hurt yourself, dental hygiene isn’t exactly the greatest, and the threat of death is constantly hanging over your head. So it’s no surprise that your average Klingon might like to get a buzz on every once in a while? Remember that notoriously strong constitution I mentioned earlier? This is where they get it from.


"Drink up, pussy."

Interesting note: the first human to drink bloodwine in the Star Trek universe was Jonathan Archer. Knowing his reputation as a human punching bag, it probably beat up his internal organs and stole their lunch money.


So what are your favorite fictional alcoholic beverages? Come on now, don't be shy, share with the class.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Way Too Late Movie Review: Star Trek (Includes Spoilers)

As anyone who knows me longer than 30 seconds can attest, I am a huge Star Trek fan. So I’m afraid that I am cheating a bit here with the format that I’ve established for my ‘Way Too Late’ movie reviews in that I saw this one in the theater when it first came out. But I didn’t have a blog back then, so cut me some slack. With the movie’s release on DVD however, I did recently get to experience the next best thing to seeing it for the first time. Showing it to my father, and fellow Star Trek fan, and my brother-in-law last weekend. You see, my father loved the original series and he always hated William Shatner, so this movie was a win/win for him. Competing with the movie for attention was my two-month-old nephew Jackson. His cuteness made for a close battle, but I’m proud to say that the movie held it’s own. Also in attendance for this viewing: My sister, who hates Star Trek and took the opportunity to tease me about my obsession as well as my nerdly observations (Look, Kirk’s motorcycle doesn’t have an axle!) and my five-year-old daughter, who sat with rapt attention throughout most of the movie. Never have I been more proud of her. Seriously, it almost brought a tear to my eye. *sniff*

Anyway, on with the show. The movie largely centers on Kirk and Spock, on their lives, on their extremely contentious relationship and their burgeoning friendship. Spock is born into conflict, the child of the Vulcan Ambassador to Earth and his human wife. He doesn’t feel like he belongs anywhere, certainly not on Vulcan where his mixed heritage is treated like a handicap. But his mother encourages him and supports him. One of the best things about Zachary Quinto’s performance as a young Spock is the vulnerability he shows, the subtle just-under-the-surface conflict between his Vulcan and human halves. Speaking of, Kirk is born into conflict as well, literally. Aboard his father’s ship as it’s being attacked by the crazed Romulan commander Nero. George Kirk sacrifices his life for his wife and his child, for his crew. We’re shown little of Kirk’s childhood, but enough to tell us that it wasn’t an easy one. He’s gifted, but rebellious. Talented, but reckless. And when we see him as a young man it’s clear that growing up without his father has made him very different from the Kirk that we’re all used to, but at the same time we can still see confident swagger that Shatner originally brought to the role so many years ago. He carries with him a lot of pain and anger, but he’s still our Kirk.

Once aboard ship the movie really gets moving. The look of the Enterprise is just modernized enough so as not to look silly, but enough of the original style is kept to remind us where we are. Our heroes finally come face to face (or ship to ship) with our antagonist Nero and Pike is taken prisoner. We get a great action scene on the drill, complete with a redshirt death. It’s around this time that the average viewer may be thinking ‘This is fun and all, but there’s no real sense of danger. We know how it all turns out, everybody lives, etc.’ And then Vulcan is destroyed. Spock spells it out for the slow kids in the class. Whatever happened in the original history, it doesn’t apply now. Nero changed all that, it’s a whole new ballgame. This is a brilliant move on the part of the filmmakers I think. Every huge movie like this, whether it’s a remake or an adaptation, always has to face the challenge of making changes to the source to suit the movie or to appeal to non-fans, and yet somehow still try to please the hardcores. Very few are able to accomplish it. But by starting the story over again, and by giving the big fans a legitimate reason for doing so (with references to the original timeline to tie it all together), everybody wins.

So Spock loses his mother and decides to tuck tail and run. Back to Starfleet to regroup what’s left of the fleet. Kirk thinks this is a horrible idea, he thinks that they should go after Nero. The disagreement ends with Spock putting Kirk in an escape pod and leaving him behind on some ice planet. An extreme reaction perhaps, he could have just put him in the brig, but Spock’s not having a good day, he just watched his entire planet get sucked into a black hole. Kirk wakes up, runs from some CGI monsters, and ends up in a cave where he runs into…Spock. Leonard Nimoy, that is. And that’s when he fills us in on the rest of the back story. Future Spock, on a mission to prevent a star from going nova, fails and Romulus is destroyed. Nero blames Spock and attacks him, both get sucked into a black hole and appear at different points in the past. Nero waits 25 years to get his revenge (Romulans age pretty well apparently). And now Vulcan is destroyed and he’s going after Earth next.

Kirk and Future Spock hike to the nearest Starfleet outpost where they meet Scotty, played by Simon Pegg. Kirk and Scotty transwarp-beam back to the Enterprise, Spock beats up Kirk, Kirk takes command, they track down Nero, Kirk and Spock beam over to his ship, Kirk gets beat up again, they rescue Captain Pike, Spock flies Future Spock’s ship into Nero’s ship, blowing up all the red matter and creating a black hole in the middle of the ship, and the Enterprise escapes. Back on Earth Kirk, and the rest of the cadets presumably, graduate and Kirk is promoted directly to Captain and given command of the Enterprise, where he chooses Spock as his First Officer. Pretty cool, huh?

In short, this movie is awesome. From the performances to the special effects, and the rebooting of a classic story and classic characters making them new and fresh to a whole new audience while still keeping their core audience on board. I can’t wait to see what the next movie brings.

My Netflix Rating: Five out of Five Stars


Random Observations:

-Kirk gets beat up a lot in this movie. I think he might have broken Captain Archer’s record for sheer number of ass-kickings in a two hour time period.

-Speaking of Archer, I loved the shout out Scotty gives. Poor Porthos.

-Karl Urban is awesome as Bones. From his first scene on the shuttle to his scene with Spock (Are you out of your Vulcan mind!), he hit it perfectly.

-Simon Pegg is awesome as Scotty. Everything he said made me laugh.

-Was that…Tyler Perry? …the hell?

Possible Sequel Ideas:

“Sulu and Chekov go to White Castle”
Along the way they run into Neil Patrick Harris who’s trying to get to Risa for some alien poon.

“Tyler Perry’s Madea Goes to Starfleet Academy”
A Tyler Perry Production, directed by and starring Tyler Perry.

“Shaun of the Enterprise”
Klingons invade, boarding the Enterprise where Scotty fights them off with a cricket bat.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Happy Day After the Day After Thanksgiving!

I've been thinking about traditions recently. The good, the bad, and the tradition for the sake of tradition. When I was a kid, Thanksgiving meant the whole extended family would get together at my grandmother's house or my uncle's house. We'd watch football and make small talk with cousins that I got to see only a few times a year. We'd gorge ourselves on turkey and stuffing, then fall asleep on the couch watching more football. Then we'd wake up and have pie. Then we'd wrap up a plate of leftovers with foil and go home and call it a day. But now that I'm an adult, getting the extended family together is much more difficult. I've got a family of my own now, complete with inlaws, and so does my sister. So now we all kind of do our own think and maybe we get together for dessert or something. So some traditions stay, like the turkey and the stuffing, and others go. I would have thought that I would miss those other traditions, but I really don't. It turns out that making new traditions is just as fun.

Case in point. I didn't watch any football on Thanksgiving at all. For a couple reasons. One, my Eagles weren't playing, so I really didn't care about any of the other games. And watching a football game that you don't care about with a room full of uncles and cousins is one thing, watching it alone is boring. Plus, I'm tired of watching the Lions and the Cowboys play every year. That's definitely one tradition that can end. And no, I didn't watch the parade either. I partook in a new holiday tradition. The holiday cable TV marathon.

TVLand had a "Brady Bunch" marathon. A&E had a "First 48" marathon. The Travel Channel had a "_____ Paradise" marathon (Donut Paradise, Deep Fried Paradise, Steak Paradise, etc.) And the one that I settled in with, Discovery Channel had a "Mythbusters" marathon. So I spent my Turkey day watching Adam and Jaime blow shit up. So what did you guys do?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fairly Topical Movie Review: "Paranormal Activity"

So every once in a while I do manage to see a newer movie, one that’s still out in theaters. Sometimes it’s even a grown-up movie, as opposed to the ones I take my daughter to see. And while I’m sure that all of the five-year-olds in my reading audience would love to hear my thoughts on “Partly Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs”, this week I thought I’d bring you all up to speed on “Paranormal Activity”. As I’m sure you’ve heard, “Paranormal Activity” has become the most profitable movie of all time, since it only cost $11,000 to make. Americans love a success story, almost as much as they like getting scared.

Meet Micah and Katie. Micah is a day trader, and apparently a pretty good one considering the house they live in and their very large television. Katie is a student and has been experiencing paranormal activity since she was young. One of them is an asshole, and the other is an idiot. I’ll let you decide which is which. They decide to setup a camera in their bedroom to catch some of the shenanigans and goings on. Some lights go on and off, some doors move on their own, and that’s what passes for scares in the first half of the movie. During the daylight hours, Micah follows Katie around with the camera and the two argue. And argue. And argue. Oh boy do they argue. This movie is about 90% arguing and around 10% scares. Micah antagonizes the spirit (whatever it is), some weird shit happens, Katie yells at Micah that the camera isn’t helping (though why it was supposed to is never really made clear), escalate and repeat. There are a few genuinely creepy moments and a couple of scares, but most of the movie is spent waiting for something to happen. That’s why I think there are so many audience reaction shots in the trailer. They set up the tension so thick that the audience ends up jumping and screaming to nothing more then loud thumps.

I won’t spoil the ending, but I will say that I think it works. Is it enough of a payoff to justify and hour and a half of watching a couple fight and some doors open, I guess that’s up to you. Here are a few things that I think they could have done to make the movie better:

At the end, the camera turns to reveal Jason Vorhees, who then puts a machete through the two leads’ heads.

When they are running through the first floor of their house at night, chasing phantom noises, Heather Donohue should run through their kitchen and scream JOSH!

Ashton Kutcher shows up at their door and tells them that they’re being punk’d. Then he pulls of his mask to reveal that he’s really M. Night Shyamalan. He says “What a twist!”, and then he puts a machete through the two leads’ heads.

My Netflix Rating: Three out of Five Stars

Thursday, November 5, 2009

It Used to be About the Food, MAN!

Remember when MTV used to be about the music? Yeah, me neither. What about SyFy, remember when they were all about Sci-Fi and spelling things correctly? Crazy, I know. All cable stations seem to start out focused on some niche market, and as soon as they become popular, they completely abandon it. Why? Because popularity means viewers, and viewers mean sponsors, and sponsors mean money, and money means more money and the desire for more money, and that means making sure that the network has the broadest appeal possible. So now we have no music on MTV, wrestling on SyFy, and reality shows EVERYWHERE! So what, you may say. This is hardly new, why talk about it now? Because I’m starting to see the effects of this phenomenon on one of my favorite channels, and once something affects me personally it then becomes important.

I can’t be the only one who watches the Food Network, right? I mean, it’s statistically impossible. The whole point of this trend is that it happens to networks that become too popular. The personalities are so famous now that they’re getting network shows and national endorsement deals. So why does no one else I talk to ever admit to watching it? Why do people think it’s so weird whenever I watch it? Is it some kind of guilty pleasure thing that I’m just too stupid to feel guilty about? My point is, the Food Network used to be about the food (MAAAAAN!!!!). And for the most part, it still is, but I can see the signs. First there was “The Next Food Network Star”, and then there was “Ace of Cakes” and “The Next Iron Chef” and “Dinner Impossible”. They were easy to avoid at first, but they’re multiplying. But I think none of these shows illustrates my point and shows the progression of the trend better than “Food Network Challenge”.

“Food Network Challenge” started its life by televising actual cooking competitions, ones that existed with or without the Food Network. It was interesting for all the reasons that reality TV is supposed to be interesting and yet never is, because it was real. Real real, not ‘Flavor of Love’ real. And then they started making their own challenges, which was fine. Most of these involved chocolate or sugar sculptures. Then they realized that people liked it when the sugar sculptures would break. It was dramatic, it was heart-wrenching, it was other people’s pain on display, which is exactly what reality TV is all about. So they made them carry their pieces to the judging table. And when that didn’t result in enough broken pieces, they made them carry it through an obstacle course. Okay, a little much but I can put up with it. I think the turning point for me was when they started doing the judging American Idol style, in front of the audience and the contestant in question, complete with snarky comments and soul-crushing cruelty.

The last one was a Simpsons cake challenge, for the twentieth anniversary of the show. And for an additional degree of difficulty, each cake artist was paired with a Simpsons super-fan as an assistant, who knew nothing about making cakes (or more accurately, the sculptures that are made out of cake that these shows create). And then they brought in Yeardley Smith, who knows nothing about cakes, to pick the winner. This isn’t even a legitimate competition anymore, it’s just a series of situations that are designed to make people have a nervous breakdown on television for our viewing pleasure.

This may seem like a lot of complaining over nothing, and mostly it is. My point is simply this: Everything does not need to be turned into a reality show! Every menial profession, every vapid celebutant, every has been or Z-list celebrity with nothing going on, and every moron on the street who wants to be famous without having to actually do anything to earn it DOES NOT NEED A TELEVISION SHOW REVOLVING AROUND THEM! We’re becoming a society of voyeurs and exhibitionists, of narcissists indulging in cruelty and classism, worshipping the false idols and equating fame with success instead of any kind of actual achievement. I know it seems harmless, but it’s bad for us, and we all need to stop.

And for all of those people who enjoy these shows ironically, you’re only encouraging them.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Opie & Anthony Clip O' The Week

In this clip the boys suggest alternate plot lines for the Sex and the City movie, to bring the guys on board too. Enjoy.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Halloweenies

Now that Halloween is over, the following is a list of words that I never want to hear again.

Spooktacular
Shocktober
Fright-Fest
Halloweekend
Scaretastic
Rutabaga

Okay, the last one doesn't have anything to do with Halloween, but I still don't like it. Please comply with this request or I shall be forced to use violence. That is all.

Friday, October 30, 2009

My Top 5 DC Characters That JLU Introduced Me To

I’ve mentioned before in this blog my secret shame of not being as big a comic book fan as I feel I should be. My main exposure to these characters has always been through TV and movies, as a kid I never actually picked up a comic book. So because of that my knowledge has always only focused on mainstream characters. But in 2005 all of that changed when the cartoon series Justice League became Justice League Unlimited, and a slew of more obscure DC characters joined the roster. I was suddenly introduced to all these characters, some of which I had never even heard of before, and I became intensely interested in more than a few. Thanks to Wikipedia, and a few friends of mine who actually know a thing or two about comic books, I’ve learned more about these characters. But still I yearn to know more. Bring me into your four color world comic book characters, and teach me how to live!

I should also mention that almost all of these characters have made appearances in my fan fiction series “Justice League Xander”, in which I cast Xander from Buffy the Vampire Slayer into the role of some of DC’s coolest non-powered heroes. I’ll include links for anyone who’s interested.


5. Mr. Terrific

In JLU, Mr. Terrific only appeared a few times, and never in any kind of action capacity. He took over for Martian Manhunter running the Watchtower and coordinating the League’s missions. So what could have possibly attracted me to this character with such little screen time? The name, which sounds ridiculous even by DC Comics standards? Maybe it was the fact that he was billed as the third smartest man in the world.

My research told me that this was actually the second hero to use the name Mr. Terrific, and that he fought crime with tiny floating balls called T-Spheres. The Wikipedia page doesn’t have much I’m afraid, which has only peaked my curiosity. Enough to seek him out in comic book form? No. Enough to fit him into my fanfic? Why yes, how did you know. Mr. T has made an appearance in “An Arrow’s Flight”, my Xander as Speedy story, and I’m currently kicking around an idea for another story with him in a more central role. I guess it’s the idea of a superhero fighting crime with his wits and his intellect that interests me.


4. Shining Knight

The ultimate fish out of water, Shining Knight is a knight from Arthurian legend displaced in the modern age. I guess what drew me to the character was the impossible situation that he’s been placed in, living in a world that he doesn’t understand, and yet he remains true to himself and his values. I remember noticing him on the show around the same time I noticed Vigilante. Seeing the two of them together, the cowboy and the knight, before I knew anything about them, they were like the Justice League’s version of the Village People. All they needed was a construction worker and an Indian chief and they would have been complete. But the friendship of those two characters turned out to be one of the most interesting things about them on the show. Two heroes from different eras, fighting along side the Justice League in the modern world. It was like a nod the DC Comics beginnings, bridging the gap between that and the future.

The nobility of the character made me think that it would be a good fit for Xander, and so I wrote “Shining White Knight”, which saw Xander displaced into the future in the world of Batman Beyond, where he takes up the mantle of Shining Knight.


3. Vigilante

When I was a kid, my dad used to watch a lot of Westerns, and I was always bored by them. I guess I just always associated them with old movies and old fashioned story telling, which didn’t interest me as a child. Then I saw Tombstone, and everything changed. Kurt Russel and Val Kilmer were so badass in that movie, Westerns took on a whole new light for me and the cowboy as hero character became really interesting to me. Especially after I realized that characters like Han Solo, with his low slung blaster holster and his kicky vest, are basically cowboys. They’re rebels and rougues, but there’s a simple morality to them too, a very black and white sense of right and wrong. So when Vigilante showed up on JLU, I took an interest, even before I heard him speak. And when I heard Nathan Fillion doing his voice, the character really fleshed out and became interesting.

His wiki page reveals a very old history, and an interesting one at that. In researching most of these characters I’ve realized what a rich history that DC comics has. When even the minor characters have 60 plus years of continuity, he can be intimidating.

One of the other things that attracted me to the character, and something that I worked into my Xander story, was the fact that we never saw his face. It was the mysterious stranger character that’s so common in Westerns. What is he hiding? What happened in his past that made him who he is and makes him do what he does? These are some of the themes that I borrowed for “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys”.


2. Green Arrow

I’ve always liked archers, I don’t really know why. I remember the old Iron Man cartoon from the 90’s and really liking Hawkeye. Maybe because it’s just so unconventional, for a modern hero to fight crime with such an old fashioned weapon. There’s a romance to it as well, which I supposed is owed in no small part to Robin Hood, especially in Green Arrow’s case. Of all the characters on this list, he’s probably had the most screen time on JLU. When the League first went unlimited, Batman recognized the danger in creating such a large, powerful organization. Even though they had the best of intentions, there was the possibility that their power could be abused. Green Arrow was specifically recruited to be a voice for the regular guy, and to remind these heroes that their powers did not give them the right to cross the line, no matter what the reason. And in that regard, GA had a very important role on the show; the every man.

Xander is also an every man, which I felt made it a natural progression. In “An Arrow’s Flight”, he becomes Green Arrow’s sidekick because he admires him so much. The fact that a regular guy can work hard and accomplish great things without super powers is a reoccurring theme with most of these characters.



1. The Question

My friend Art (Scarecrows_Brain) and I had a discussion once about Batman. Specifically the idea that Bruce Wayne created the Batman persona to strike fear into criminals. Art contended that if in real life a man were to dress like a bat, criminals wouldn’t be scared of him, they would laugh at him and shoot him in the face (feel free to correct me Art if you feel that I’m misquoting you). This led to the question, which hero’s costume would work to that extent in real life? My answer: The Question. If a man approaches you in a dark alley, dressed in a suit and a long coat, and he doesn’t have a face, I don’t know about you but that would scare the shit out of me. When you can’t read facial expressions, you don’t know if he’s smiling or if he’s about to kill you, it’s unnerving. You can project anything onto that blank face, your worst fears.

On JLU Question (voiced by Jeffrey Combs) was played as a conspiracy nut, someone that the other Leaguers didn’t necessarily take seriously all the time. But in the end, The Question’s theories almost always proved to be true. He knows his stuff and he does his homework. He’s smart, not Albert Einstein smart or even Batman smart necessarily, but smart because he pays attention to everything and he knows how to read people and how to ask the right questions. I always felt like his conspiracy buff reputation spawned from the fact that his mind was sharp enough to make connections that no one else could see, that no one else would even think to consider. And his relationship with Huntress on the show added a vulnerability to the character and a humanity that made him not only interesting, but made you care about him.

The theme of masks is another common element in Xander fic, and one that I used for my stories “No Answers, Just Questions” and its sequel "Choices We Make". I like to think that I did the character justice, at least as far as the JLU version of the character. This is the one character on this list that I am planning on going back and reading the old comics, I’ve become that interested.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hump Day

A day late and a hottie short, I know. I've been sidelined by the flu for the last few days, the regular kind not the piggy variety. Regular posting will resume soon. In the mean time, enjoy the following:

Jewel Staite

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Opie & Anthony Clip O' The Week

Bill Burr and the boys talk about the ShamWow.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Way Too Late Movie Review – "Wanted"

I have a really bad habit of letting my Netflix movies sit on top of my television for months before I finally get around to watching them. I think it has something to do with having to find a two hour block of time in which I can watch the movie with no distractions, which in this crazy modern workaday world can be hard enough as it is. But when the movie is something that I added to my Netflix queue months prior when the movie was out in theaters, and by the time I receive it I can barely remember why I was interested in it in the first place, it’s also hard to find the desire to set aside that two hours, even when I do have the time. The ironic thing is that when I finally watch the movie, I almost always enjoy it, so you’d think I’d learn from my experience that I’m pretty good at picking movies for myself, being that I am myself. The side effect of this process is that by the time I’ve seen a movie, it’s too late to be able to talk to anyone about it. So I’ve decided that this forum is the perfect place to share my thoughts about these movies, that you’ve either already seen eons ago, or had no desire to see and are thus not interested in the least. And with that rousing introduction, onto my first review.

Wanted


I remember thinking when I added this to my queue that this looked like a fun shoot ‘em up, and Angelina Jolie looked pretty hot, and on those two fronts this movie certainly did not disappoint. What I didn’t expect, and was pleasantly surprised by, was the main character’s story arc. In the vain of movies like "The Matrix" or "Harry Potter", "Wanted" is a movie about an ordinary man who learns that he has extraordinary abilities, and that he is destined to lead another life, a more meaningful and exciting life. It’s the old adolescent fantasy that you’re destined for more than this one horse town, and someday your real parents, James Bond and Lara Croft, will swoop in and take you away from all of this. Sure, it’s a little immature, but it’s good to indulge your inner child once in a while. After all, isn’t indulging in fantasy what movies are really about.

Wesley Gibson is in ordinary man, so ordinary in fact that he can’t bring himself to care about anything in his life. His job is awful, his boss is an evil shrew who constantly berates and belittles him, his girlfriend is an emasculating bitch who is boning his best friend, and his best friend is a posturing macho asshole. So when he’s kidnapped by Angelina Jolie and led through an elaborate gun fight and car chase which ends in the revelation that his father was an assassin and that he shares the same preternatural gift for adrenaline fueled gun violence, he first can’t believe it. But when he tries to go back to his normal life, he finally snaps. He tells off his boss so perfectly, that the humiliation renders her nearly catatonic. He cracks his best friend in the face with his keyboard, knocking out a tooth and spelling ‘Fuck You’ in midair with the broken keys. This scene alone makes this movie worth it for me. Maybe I’m projecting my own dark, twisted, work-related stress fueled fantasy onto this, but I’m okay with that.

While Wesley trains he learns about the Fraternity, a group of assassins that have existed for a thousand years and who receive their orders from a loom. They are weapons of fate, killing to make the world a better place. They train Wesley because they believe that he is the only one who can kill his father’s killer, a former member of the Fraternity who has left and is now seeking to destroy the group. But once Wesley is finally ready and goes after the man, the movie takes a twist.

(Spoilers ahead. Honestly though, if you haven’t seen the movie by now you’re probably not going to.)

The man that Wesley has been sent to kill is actually his father. He left the Fraternity when he learned that the boss, Morgan Freeman, was no longer taking the targets from the magic loom, but picking them himself for profit. Yes, the shocking twist is that this group of professional killers are actually the bad guys. Whoda thunk, right? Wesley decides to go after the Fraternity, sending a horde of exploding rats into the building. The rats explode, but do surprising little damage. Wesley then spends the next ten minutes killing everyone in sight on his way up to get Morgan Freeman. He’s cornered in the end, so he tells all of the assassins the truth about their boss, that he’s been making up the target list. Morgan Freeman admits it, and tells the assassins that all of their names have come up on the loom, so if they want fate in charge then they should all kill themselves. Angelina Jolie, the good assassin, saves Wesley by curving a bullet all the way around the room, killing all of the assassins, including herself. It’s a good thing they were all standing in a perfect circle. Which is kind of dumb when you think about it, if they had opened fire on Wesley they all would have been killed in the crossfire. Wesley does win in the end when he manages to kill Morgan Freeman with a sniper shot from about ten miles away that actually travels through the hole in a doughnut at one point. But hey, I’m not going to start attacking a movie that bends bullets for realism. I might as well start attacking "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" on the grounds that Chinese people can’t fly (or can they?).

So what’s the lesson of this movie? If you life sucks, you need to take matters into your own hands to fix it. Take responsibility for figuring out who you really are instead of just trudging through existence on auto-pilot, waiting for something to happen. Maybe the lesson is that morality is in the eye of the beholder. Or that fate is just an excuse to absolve you of personal responsibility. We all make our own fate. Or maybe, just maybe, the lesson is that gun fights are cool and Angelina Jolie is hot and you get to see her ass. Honestly, what more do you want out of a movie?

My Netflix Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Friday, October 9, 2009

My Top 8 Most Rewatchable Movies

Imagine if you will the following scenario. It’s Saturday afternoon, you’re bored and you’re flicking through the channels trying to find something to watch when you come across a movie starting. And suddenly you know exactly what you’re going to be doing for the next two hours. One of those movies, that no matter how many times you’ve seen it, you can still watch it and enjoy every minute of it. One of those movies that even though you own it on DVD, you’ll watch it on basic cable with all the curses bleeped out and commercials. Why do we do that? Are we just too lazy to get up off the couch and put the DVD in? I think that with the way that TV is evolving, with DVR’s and websites like Hulu and Netflix that let you watch stuff on your computer, watching TV has become such a personal experience, always on our own terms. And while the idea of watching something on a network’s schedule instead of our own is becoming obsolete, there’s also some nostalgia left in it. Even though you might be by yourself, you know that you’re sharing this moment with countless other viewers all over the country, and there’s comfort in that. It makes it more of a communal experience.

Speaking of, if there’s one theme that bridges all of these movies, I think it’s nostalgia. There are plenty of movies that I’ve seen and loved, and yet have no desire to ever see again. So rewatchability (yes, I made that word up) isn’t solely related to quality, it’s more about how the movies makes you feel, and wanting to recreate that feeling again and again.

8. The Green Mile

I could probably do a whole list of just my favorite Stephen King movies and not have any problem filling it out. I distinctly remember seeing Green Mile in the theater, and despite it’s length, I never felt antsy or eager for it to end. The pacing may be a bit slow, but it’s perfect for setting up the characters and their relationships with each other, and so it never really feels slow. Despite the supernatural elements, and the fact that one of the main characters is a mouse, it’s a very human story. John Coffey, through his abilities, experiences the worst aspects of the human condition. Pain, suffering, hatred, ignorance, and evil. What I said before about wanting to recreate a feeling, I don’t believe that that has to strictly apply to only happy feelings. Sometimes sadness and tragedy has a way of making you feel empathy for your fellow man, making you feel like a part of the human experience, and that can be just as cathartic.

The Rewatchability Factor: The characters. If you don’t develop an emotional investment in these characters, then it doesn’t work. Tom Hanks especially is good at making you care about his character in every movie that he’s in. In Green Mile, it’s the characters that make the story work. And it’s the characters that keep me interested in this movie time and time again.

7. Highlander

Some movies become so emblematic of the time that they’re made, that they can’t help but feel dated when you watch them. You’d think that this would make the movie less rewatchable, but for me, for some movies at least, it’s the exact opposite. Every time you watch the movie, you’re reminded of when you first saw it. The person you were then, your experience when you first saw the movie, and rewatching that movie becomes pure nostalgia. Of course, the movie has to be good too. The first Highlander movie is very 80’s, from the clothes and the hair to the music and the over-the-top feeling throughout the film. The villain, the fight scenes and the flashbacks are all larger than life. It’s epic in its span, but it still manages to make us care about the main character (I’m sensing a theme here). So many great moments; Heather’s death, Ramirez’s death, Connor being ousted by his clan, his training with Ramirez. They make you feel for Connor, make you care about what happens to him.

The Rewatchability Factor: The mood. The music of Queen especially helps to establish the mood of the movie so well, creating so many memorable moments. Rewatching this movie becomes akin to listening to a favorite album from beginning to end.

6. Shawshank Redemption

This one must be on a lot of people’s rewatchable list, because it’s on TNT every other weekend. It’s one of those movies that you can catch at any point in the movie and still enjoy watching it. In fact, I’ve probably only ever seen the beginning of the movie once or twice, but I’ve seen the middle and the end dozens of times. The second Stephen King movie on the list, and another that isn’t a horror movie. Horror movies don’t have much rewatchability for me. I was never into the slasher movies, like Freddy or Jason, and I never got into the new torture porn genre, like Saw or Hostel. I was always more attracted to thrillers, and the experience of seeing the movie for the first time, not knowing what’s coming, is what makes them thrilling. Recreating that experience with the same movie is almost impossible. The exception to the rule would have to be IT, but again that one is all about the characters and the nostalgia for me and not necessarily the scares.

As for Shawshank, I guess what attracts me to the movie so much is the character of Andy Dufresne. I’ve always loved characters who aren’t just smart, they’re prepared. Always on the ball and ready for any situation, always thinking ten steps ahead with a plan for every contingency. Batman, Gil Grissom, or Robert Goren from Law & Order: CI. Andy is a smart man, brilliant even, and he’s trapped in the ultimate position of powerlessness. He’s used, abused, and beaten down to the point where any other man would have broken. And in the end, as we’re led to believe that his spirit has finally been crushed and that the only way out he has left is suicide, Andy proves everybody wrong. We learn that Andy had been putting his escape plan into motion practically since arriving at Shawshank, every detail meticulously worked out. Sure, there were moments in the movie when Andy’s spirit was broken, but he never gave up hope. As he tells Red in his letter, ‘Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.’ And in the end, Andy’s hope is rewarded.

The Rewatchability Factor: The revenge fantasy. It literally takes the entire third act of the movie to explain Andy’s entire plan, that’s how elaborate it was. His revenge on the warden is so devastating that the man commits suicide. And at the end, Andy and Red live happily ever after on a beach in Mexico somewhere. There is no more perfect revenge fantasy, and I think everyone can relate to that. The movie actually becomes more satisfying when it’s rewatched and you know the ending.

5. The Usual Suspects

Speaking of characters who are always on the ball and thinking ten steps ahead, no one better fits that description than Keyser Soze. Of course, the payoff for that doesn’t come until the end of the movie. The primary attraction for this movie is the story. Everyone (every guy anyway) loves a heist. Maybe it’s the action or the anti-authority angle, or maybe it’s just the idea of becoming insanely rich for a single night’s work, Hollywood loves to romanticize thievery. This movie contains three or four heists (depending on your definition). And on top of that, it’s an intricately woven story, with twists and turns and secret clues, all of which only get better with multiple viewings.

The Rewatchability Factor: The dialogue. From the opening scene at the lineup (“Hand me the keys you motherfuckin’ cocksucker motherfucker, AGGHH!!”) where the actors’ actual laughter made it into the movie, all the way through to the end, the dialogue is so expertly crafted that it’s almost poetry.


4. Batman


This was the first big budget superhero blockbuster movie that I remember seeing, and it changed my life. It was dark, and gritty, and violent, and oh so Tim Burton, and it showed everyone what a comic book movie could be. This movie took the campy Adam West Batman and killed it once and for all. It showed Batman as a dark and brooding conflicted soul, and the Joker as an insane homicidal psychopath. And more importantly, it inspired Batman the Animated Series, which started the DC Animated Universe, which has provided me with hundreds of hours of entertainment over the years.

The Rewatchability Factor: Nostalgia. I’ve seen this movie so many times that I can practically recite it. Watching it now reminds me of what it was like to see it as a kid, and how awesome it was then. I still think it holds up pretty well, and I’ve even shown it to my daughter (who loves Batman) and can enjoy it now on a whole new level as I watch her fall in love with it.

3. The Crow

Visually stunning, The Crow took what Batman did and turned it up to eleven. It’s a dark and brooding revenge fantasy run wild. A heavily stylized, moody piece of cinema that does everything right. A spirit of vengeance resurrects Eric Draven, who then embarks on a quest for revenge against the men who killed his fiancé. The star, Brandon Lee, was killed on the set when he was accidentally shot with a gun that was supposed to have contained blanks. Lee was himself engaged to be married at the time. The Crow has become a fitting swansong for the man whose life and career were tragically cut short.

The Rewatchability Factor: The visual style. So much attention was paid in this movie to lighting and color, to costumes and sets, to imagery and symbolism that every frame of it is a work of art. The movie is practically in black and white (and red), there’s absolutely no blue or green in it at all. It’s the precursor to movies like Sin City and 300, which lift their visual look directly from the comic source material.

2. Spaceballs

Surprisingly, the only comedy on my list. You’d think that of all genres, comedy would be the most rewatchable. Oddly enough, as much of a fan of standup comedy as I am, there aren’t that many comedy movies that I enjoy (and I’ve entirely given up on sitcoms). Mel Brooks however is still a hero of mine, and this movie is mostly why. I guess there’s a heavy nostalgia factor here too. If I look at the movie objectively I can see how a lot of the jokes haven’t aged well, but I just love the movie so much that I forgive it of those sins (kind of like a few members of my family). It’s also possibly the most quotable movie of all time, which for a geek like me is essential. After all, what’s the point of loving a movie if you can’t annoy everyone you know by quoting it to death?

The Rewatchability Factor: The gags. And maybe some nostalgia too, I’ll admit, but ultimately I still think the movie is funny. It’s Mel Brooks making fun of Star Wars, how could it not be funny. Of course, the animated series later showed us exactly how, but I don’t let that spoil the source material for me.

1. Apollo 13

What can I say, I’ve always been a sucker for the space program. You can give me the driest documentary ever, featuring only two men talking in an empty room about the Apollo missions, and I’m there. This movie of course focuses on one of the most dramatic moments in the history of the space program, the Apollo 13 disaster. And it does it so well. Visually it’s awesome, with some of the best effects for it’s time. The human drama of the story is appealing, giving us an insight into the lives of these men who risked so much to fulfill a dream and to better mankind. Tom Hanks once again lends his likeability to the role, making us care about his character. The drama here plays so well that at the end of the movie when they’re waiting to reestablish contact with the command module as they’re making their entry, even though I know what’s going to happen, I’m on the edge of my seat every time.

The Rewatchability Factor: The Space Program. It appeals to the science fiction lover in me as well as the history lover. All the drama and excitement of science fiction, with the added benefit of having actually happened. Maybe that’s the real appeal, that it’s a true story. That these men really lived through this, and that when they came home they just kind of went on with their lives. It’s human drama, ambition and ingenuity at its best.


So what do you think, Sirs? What are your most rewatchable movies?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Opie & Anthony Clip O' The Week

This week I bring you a clip featuring friend of the show, comedian Patrice O'Neal, and his story about his encounter with the Creepy Cold Guy.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Top 5 Transporter Accidents

Aside from the holodeck, the one other piece of equipment in Star Trek that has caused the most problems has been the transporter. The concept of the transporter was created by Gene Roddenberry for the original series as a cheat. The show didn’t have the budget to shoot a shuttle landing on a planet every week, so he came up with the transporter. And almost immediately the problem seemed to be that it was too perfect a device. Nearly every problem could be solved by it, and so they had to limit its functionality. It only had a short range, it didn’t work through shields, and a hundred other things that kept the episodes from being only five minutes long. And then someone finally said “Hey, this think scrambles your atoms and airmails them down to a planet where it puts you back together again like a jigsaw puzzle, right? What would happen if something went wrong?” Badness, that’s what happens. But for the purposes of this list, I’ll stick to the more interesting and less fatal incidents.


5. “Realm of Fear” (TNG)

Most of us like to imagine that if we lived in the Star Trek universe we would be as suave as Riker, as smart as Data, and as well respected as Picard. But the fact is, we’re all Barclay and we know it. Lt. Reginald Barclay is the socially maladjusted everyman character that the viewers can identify with. He’s the only character on the show to ever use the holodeck for the same thing that all of us would if given the chance, scoring with Deanna Troi. Who can’t relate to that?

In this episode, the Enterprise responds to a distress call and beams aboard the USS Yosemite, whose crew appears to be missing. We learn that among the rest of his psychological problems, Barclay is also afraid of the transporter. He eventually manages to beam over and then back, but while he’s in the transporter beam he sees what looks like a large worm, floating inside the beam with him. And just before he materializes, the worm bites him on the arm. Just when it seems like Barclay has ingested more than his daily requirement of vitamin LSD, he starts to show other symptoms and diagnoses himself as having transporter psychosis, a debilitating disease that has no cure. But just when we think that we can also add hypochondriac to Barclay’s list of mental problems, it turns out that there really is something wrong with him. They discover some weird microbes on the Yosemite, and then they discover the same microbes in Barclay, and the only way to get them out is using the transporter. Barclay has to face his fear. While in the transporter, he sees the worms again, and for no discernable reason he decides to grab one. When he rematerializes, one of the crewmembers from the Yosemite materializes with him. Apparently the crew of the Yosemite became infected with the same microbes and tried to use the transporter on their ship to get them out, but somehow became trapped in the transporter.



So, if they were trapped in the transporter on the Yosemite, how did they get into the Enterprise’s transporter? And why did they turn into worms? And why did they bite Barclay? And what about Scarecrow’s Brain? Are you beginning to see the kinds of problems that can arise when you routinely disassemble your atoms and broadcast them across outer space? Why was this a good idea again?


4. “Rascals” (TNG)

It’s Jim Henson’s Next Gen Babies! Returning from an away mission, a transporter accident turns Picard, Ensign Ro, Guinan, and Keiko O’Brien into twelve-year-olds (just their bodies that is, their minds remain the same). And just when you think that that’s too outrageous to be believed, the ship is hijacked by Ferengi pirates. The adults turned kids manage to save the day ala “Home Alone” through trickery and their kidly wiles, and in the end Dr. Crusher manages to reverse the process. Unfortunately though, not before a misunderstanding landed Chief O’Brien on the Federation’s sex offender registry. Because of the error he was later forced to transfer to a broken down old Cardassian space station at the ass end of the galaxy.

My question is that once they discovered that the transporter could do this, why did they never do it again? Shouldn’t everyone in the Federation be Immortal right now? This is the fountain of youth here, and yet we never hear about it again. Shouldn’t we be seeing starships staffed with twelve-year-olds, like some sort of bad Stephen Ratliff fic gone amuck?




3. “Second Chances” (TNG)

So in addition to being the fountain of youth, the transporter can also be a cloning machine. In this episode the Enterprise ventures to a planet where some kind of space thing means that they can only use the transporters every eight years. The last time a Federation ship was there was eight years prior, when Riker was part of the evacuation crew and barely got out. So when they beam down imagine their chagrin when they meet Riker’s double, who never got out and has been living on this abandoned base all by himself for the last eight years. They eventually figure out that it was a transporter accident, and that this double is every bit as much Will Riker as our Will Riker is. Except of course he’s been living the last eight years like Robinson Crusoe in space, he has a problem with authority, and he’s still carrying a torch for Troi. Lieutenant Riker however ends up making the same choice that Commander Riker did, choosing his career or his relationship with Deanna, and takes a post on another starship. He changes his name to Thomas, and later he shaves his beard into a goatee, joins the Maquis and steals the Defiant. Talk about overcompensating for a more successful sibling. Maybe he should have changed his name to Garth Knight.

o/'...They're cousins, identical cousins...o/'

This accident more than any other reveals the horrible truth about the transporter. It doesn’t actually transport you, it’s more like a fax machine. It sends your information to another transporter, which creates a copy. The original, meaning you, is then destroyed. So essentially every time you step into the transporter, it’s killing you and creating a clone. Damn, no wonder Barclay (not to mention Doctors McCoy and Pulaski) hate the damn thing so much. I’m beginning to see their point.


2. “Tuvix” (VOY)

This is the exact opposite of what happened to Riker in “Second Chances”. Instead of taking one person and splitting them into two, in this episode the transporter took two people and combined them into one. Apparently it’s just really bad at math. It happened like this; Neelix and Tuvok were on some planet picking flowers (honest) and when they beamed up, only one person materialized. He called himself Tuvix, and he seemed to combine the best qualities of both men. He made a good tactical officer, a good cook, he didn’t have a stick up his ass, and he was only half as annoying as Neelix. The crew warmed up to him pretty quickly, with the exception of Kes who was a little disturbed by watching the mashed together corpses of her boyfriend and mentor walking through the corridors of the ship. The Doctor finally figured out how to separate them, much to Tuvix’s dismay. I guess he wasn’t too keen on being murdered, but they went ahead and did it anyway. Afterwards Neelix and Tuvok both agreed to never talk about the time that they were ‘inside each other’.


1. “Mirror, Mirror” (TOS)

The granddaddy of all transporter accidents, the model to which all other transporter accidents are compared, occurred during possibly the most famous episode of the original series. During a transporter accident, Kirk, Scotty, McCoy and Uhura are beamed aboard an Enterprise in an alternate universe. In this mirror-universe, the Federation has been replaced by the Terran Empire, a brutal totalitarian state. Where they take what they want, destroying any planet that gets in their way, and murdering your superior is the typical mode of advancement. They did make the female crewmembers wear two piece uniforms though, so I guess no universe is all bad. The mirror-universe would later be used in several episodes on Deep Space Nine, where all the female characters made out with each other, and one episode of Enterprise, where Hoshi became empress of the empire. For obvious reasons, these episodes were among the best of both shows.

This episode is also famous for creating the cliché of all evil twins having a goatee, since the mirror-universe Spock had one. Having a goatee myself, I personally find this stereotype to be very offensive. Just because I have a goatee, it doesn’t make me evil. There are so many other valid qualities that I have that make me evil, judge me by those. That’s all I ask.

Goatee = Evil


Honorable Mention: “Relics” (TNG)

This isn’t technically a transporter accident, since it was done on purpose, however it’s pretty cool so I think it bears including. The Enterprise receives a distress call from a transport ship that has been missing for seventy-five years, the USS Jenolan. When they follow the signal they discover a giant sphere, 200 million kilometers in diameter.






“That’s not a moon. Holy shit, it’s the fucking Deathstar!”

No, it’s not the Deathstar, it’s a Dysonsphere. It’s a sphere built to enclose a star, and the Jenolan is crashed on the surface of it. When they beam aboard they find the transporter jerry-rigged to run in a continuous cycle without rematerializing, and there’s still a pattern in the buffer. When the run the materialization routine, guess who it is. Scotty, that’s right! I guess that picture up there is a dead giveaway. Scotty then goes through a little culture shock about the Enterprise-D. He annoys LaForge so much that he kicks him out of Engineering. Then he goes to the holodeck to sit on the bridge of his old ship and get drunk on Ecto-Cooler. In the end, the Enterprise gets pulled into the Dysonsphere and Scotty and LaForge save the day by using the Jenolan to hold the hatch open like a doorstop long enough for the Enterprise to squeeze through. Scotty and LaForge patch up their differences, and Picard decides to give Scotty one of their shuttlecraft to replace the destroyed Jenolan. Which is a bit like giving a retired Army general a tank as a gift, but whatever. Troi also gives Scotty a kiss goodbye, which is odd considering that she had absolutely no interaction with him in the episode at all.




Additional

To review, the transporter can also function as a stasis device, a cloning machine, the fountain of youth, a gateway into other dimensions, and Jeff Goldblum’s pod from The Fly. You know what, I think I’ll just take the bus.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Opie & Anthony Clip O' the Week

In an effort to share with the readers of this blog (both of you) some of my other interests in the world of entertainment, I've decided to introduce you to my favorite radio show, Opie and Anthony. But rather than drone on and one about who they are and why they're funny and list all of the radio stations that they've been kicked off of before finally landing in satellite radio, I'll just get right to the meat of it by sharing some of my favorite clips courtesy of YouTube. Then you can decide for yourself how funny they are.

For our first selection, here is the show's third mic, comedian Jim Norton with one of his most popular characters, Ted.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Top 5 Holodeck Programs

Ask any Star Trek fan what piece of technology from the show would they most like to own, and you may get a few different answers. Warp drive, transporters, maybe phasers. Those people are all lying. They’re trying to impress you with their altruism by wishing for technology that can better mankind. There’s only one truthful answer to that question, the holodeck. But we don’t want to say that because we don’t want to sound like creepy introverts who want to disappear into our own little fantasy world. The ironic thing is that as Star Trek fans, that’s what everyone else thinks we are anyway. So what the hell, let’s be honest. We all want a holodeck.

The way I see it, if the holodeck were introduced today, it would be a lot like the Internet. A small segment of our population would disappear into it and never return. Escaping from reality will always be attractive, whether it’s through TV and movies or drugs and alcohol. And new, attractive ways to make that escape are always going to swallow up a few mouth-breathers, and we have to accept that. We can’t ban everything that’s fun just because a few people don’t have the self-control to handle it. But just like with the Internet, society will adjust to the new technology and we’ll find equilibrium again. Well, most of us will.

Star Trek has shown us many uses for the holodeck. Training simulations, exotic environments, sports, games, entertainment, and of course Quark’s main stock and trade, sex. But of course, like all technology, it isn’t perfect. At least a couple of times per season the holodeck would try to kill everyone inside of it, and sometimes outside of it, because of some kind of malfunction. It’s a wonder they let the things run at all. But I guess when you’re in deep space, and there isn’t a whole lot to do, risking your life for a cheap thrill sounds like a fair trade.

Here are a few of the more memorable programs that I wouldn’t mind giving a try. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it PG for the kids.


5. Captain Proton

For the most part, the holodeck programs that we saw on Voyager were pretty lame. In order to conserve power, they used a lot of communal programs that many people could enjoy at once. Sandrine’s pool hall, Neelix’s resort program, Paris even created a program of a movie theater once. Watching a movie in the holodeck is kind of like playing checkers on your X-Box 360, it’s tremendously stupid. But by far, Fair Haven was the stupid straw that broke the stupid camel’s stupid back. For those of you who don’t know, Fair Haven was a simulation of a 19th Century Irish village. That’s it. The most modern of 24th Century technologies, with the ability to simulate anything, anything at all, and the most entertaining thing that they could come up with was drunken Irish pig farmers playing darts in a pub? Seriously? I can pull random words out of my ass and come up with a better idea than that. How about ‘Monster Truck Dinosaur Party Island’? There, I just made that up and that would have been a thousand times more entertaining than Fair Haven. But I digress. My purpose here is to talk about good programs, not bad.

By season five of Voyager, Tom Paris’ obsession with all things 20th Century led him to a holonovel called “The Adventures of Captain Proton.” The program appeared to be based on the science fiction movie serials from the 40’s and 50’s, like Captain Video or Commando Cody. He had a rocket ship, a jet pack, and a ray gun. His sidekick’s name was Buster, his girl’s name was Constance Goodheart, and the villain’s name was Dr. Chaotica. That should pretty much tell you everything you need to know. It was over-the-top, cheesy, campy fun.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Bride of Chaotica!” (VOY). A pair of photonic lifeforms, trying to make contact with Voyager, transported aboard the holodeck while the Captian Proton program was running, and thought it was real. They were attacked by Dr. Chaotica, and in order to save them, Janeway had to pretend to be the queen of the spider people and the Doctor had to pretend to be the president of Earth. I wish to God that I was making this up.

President of Earth. No shit.


4. Vic Fontaine

Over the course of the three Trek series that featured holodecks, we’ve met a few self-aware holograms. But none were as cool as Vic Fontaine. Played by James Darren, Vic was a nightclub owner and lounge singer in 1960’s Las Vegas. He was introduced to the crew of DS9 when his program was given to Dr. Bashir as a gift by his friend Felix. Because of the advanced nature of his program and his ability to read people, Vic became a friend and confidant to many of the crew. He was a cross between a counselor, a bartender and a guardian angel. He gave Odo love advice and helped him win over Kira. He befriended Nog after he lost his leg in the Dominion war, and encouraged him to move on with his life. After that incident, Nog arranged for Vic’s program to run 26 hours a day (the station ran on a 26 hour Bajoran day) and Vic was given the chance to live an almost normal life.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Badda-Bing, Badda-Bang” (DS9). A jack-in-the-box subroutine of Vic’s program becomes activated, causing a new character to be created for a program. Frankie Eyes, an old rival of Vic’s comes in and buys the hotel and casino out from under him, leaving Vic without a job. The jack-in-the-box can’t be removed without damaging Vic’s program and wiping his memory, so the crew decides that an old-fashioned heist is in order to bankrupt the casino and leave Frankie Eyes at the mercy of his mafia connections. Basically just picture Ocean’s Eleven, if it took place on a space station. In the end the good guys win, and Vic and Captain Sisko perform a duet of “The Best is Yet to Come”.



3. Dixon Hill

Our very first introduction to the holodeck is during season one of TNG, when Picard discovers a holonovel of his favorite private detective, Dixon Hill. He gets so excited that he calls a senior staff meeting. Let’s think about this for a moment. This is kind of like the captain of an aircraft carrier calling a meeting because he found a waterslide on the lower decks of his ship, and it’s, like, really fun!

Our introduction to the holodeck also became our introduction to the holonovel. Just imagine if every book you ever read became a movie, and you were the star. That’s what a holonovel is like. In short, it’s the coolest idea ever. My only question is this; what happens if you don’t follow the events of the story? What would happen if Dixon Hill just whipped out his tommy gun and started shooting motherfuckers just for shiggles?

“I ordered dressing on the side, ON THE SIDE MOTHERFUCKER! DIE!!!”

Sure, it would be fun. But it would make for a short novel.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “The Big Goodbye” (TNG). The very first holodeck episode was also the very first the-holodeck-is-trying-to-kill-us episode. When Picard decides to go back into the Dixon Hill program, he invites Dr. Crusher, Data, and some guy we’ve never seen before to come along. I think we can all see where this is going. The holodeck malfunctions, trapping them all inside and disabling the safeties, and the guy we’ve never seen before gets shot. In the end they manage to get out and get their man to sickbay, and presumably he survives. Picard gets to the bridge and saves the day, and for safety reasons they shut down the holodeck and never use it again. Oh, wait, no they don’t. They actually continue to use it quite a lot and it continues to try to kill them quite a lot. I guess they’re just gluttons for punishment.



2. Sherlock Holmes

Probably the greatest thing about the holodeck is that when you step inside, you can be anybody. You can become a great hero or go on grand adventures, every fantasy can come true. In the case of our favorite socially awkward android, you can become the world’s greatest detective. No, not Batman, the other one, Sherlock Holmes. Data’s interest in Holmes is no doubt related to his interest in becoming more human. Holmes posses a tremendous analytical mind, much like Data, but Holmes is also undeniably human, with human frailties and desires. So it makes sense that Data would want to emulate him. Or maybe he just liked that hat, I don’t know.

The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Elementary, Dear Data” (TNG). Data and LaForge go to play Holmes and Watson on the holodeck and Geordi gets upset when Data solves the mystery after only a few minutes. So in an effort to create a scenario that will pose a challenge to Data, Geordi asks the holodeck to create an adversary capable of defeating Data. The computer then makes Moriarty self-aware and gives him access to the ship’s systems. Let me go over that again. The holodeck ACCIDENTLY CREATED A SENTIENT LIFEFORM! This would be like if you tried to send an email on your computer, and instead Windows created a small troll, which then crawled out through the disk drive and tried to eat you. Something tells me that there would be a very angry letter to Bill Gates in your future, not to mention the fact that when you finished beating the crap out of your computer with a sledge hammer, you’d set it on fire. Not only isn’t there a major investigation into how the Enterprise’s computer accidentally CREATED LIFE, but they continue to use the holodecks. Now they’re just fucking asking for it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cybiKeu-sow


1. Julian Bashir: Secret Agent

Honestly, this had to be the first holodeck program created ever. Something tells me that five seconds after the first holodeck was invented, the first engineer turned to the second and said ‘So, what do you want to do with this?’ and his answer was ‘Be James Bond!’ The action, the glamour, the gadgets, the women, James Bond is designed to be the ultimate male fantasy. So when Julian gets a new secret agent holosuite program, is it any wonder that he seems to spend almost all of his off hours running it, much to his friend Garak’s curiosity. And of course, being the killjoy that he is, Garak has to immediately point out that real spies don’t operate that way, but who cares! God Garak, who the fuck invited you anyway?



The Inevitable Moment of Disaster: “Our Man Bashir” (DS9). A transporter accident (I think I’m going to have to do an entry on those as well) causes DS9’s computer to have to store the patterns of Sisko, Dax, Kira and O’Brien. So the computer decides to store them in the holosuite, inserting them as characters in the secret agent program that Bashir and Garak are running. All the usual parameters for a holodeck disaster are in place, they can’t shut the program off, they can’t leave, the safeties don’t work, and they can’t harm the holodeck characters without harming their friends. They have to play out the program and let it end on its own. Julian eventually figures out that the easiest way to do that is to lose.

Honorable Mention: “A Fistful of Datas” (TNG)

This one wasn’t a reoccurring program on the show, but I think it bears mentioning just for the ‘holy shit’ malfunction. Worf, Alexander and Troi are playing Old West on the holodeck while Data and LaForge are monkeying with the ship’s computer, hooking it up to Data’s brain for some reason. The result is (surprise!) a malfunction, in which Data’s brain starts infecting other ship’s systems, including the holodeck. The various holodeck characters start getting replaced with simulations of Data, the safeties get disabled, they can’t end the program, same old song, different tune. Worf manages to defeat the android gunslinger and end the program just after an oddly homoerotic moment featuring Data as the female saloon keeper who’s sweet on Worf, but that’s not even the best part. At the end, Alexander feels upset because he knows that Worf probably won’t want to play the program again (You think?!), but Worf surprises him (and us) by saying that he would. This would be like a father taking his son on a roller coaster, which then catches on fire and flies off the track, nearly killing everybody, and the son says ‘Oh, I guess we can’t go again’ and the father says ‘Ah hell, why not!’ WHAT?! We’ve reached the point now where holodeck malfunctions are so commonplace that the characters don’t even blink, and think nothing of scheduling some more time right after the thing ALMOST KILLS THEIR KID!

Say what you want about Windows, when my computer bluescreens, at least nobody dies.