Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Rule #1 See Zombieland

The zombie romantic comedy is a malnourished genre, the only other example that leaps to mind being Shaun of the Dead. This might be for the best, considering the consistent quality of the offering so far. The tone is so close in Zombieland to its predecessor, they could even be happening at the same time and this is the US version of what we've already seen unfold over in Great Britain with the adventures of Shaun and company.

Zombie fans should check their mailboxes, because this is a love letter to all of us, a real romp and laugh-riot. The auditorium, filled with regular and zombie folk, rang with cheers and laughs from start to finish, walking away with murmurs and shouts of pure satisfaction that for those who attend movies even semi-regularly is dear indeed. Not a one of us cared that we exited into a Seattle downpour, kicking our heels with gratitude that at least we didn't have to worry about dispatching the undead.

I don't want to spoil anything about the movie (there are some hilarious surprises), and will only tell you that the protagonist has a list of rules he lives by in order to survive the zombie infestation. These are common sense standbys, such as maintaining cardio (these zombies can sprint)and always checking the backseat when entering a new vehicle (horror movie staple, yes?); rule number one for moviegoers this weekend should be to see Zombieland.

I'm not a film reviewer, but I want to offer up a Vault Boy Thumbs-Up for Zombieland -which is the highest recommendation I can give (VB is an icon from Fallout 3, a game environment focused on Washington DC as a post-apocalyptic wasteland haunted by no small amount of ghouls, who are not quite zombies but... close enough).

Monday, September 28, 2009

Zombie-Free Weekend at the Fair

It's been years since I attended the Puyallup Fair, a big deal in these here parts. A big draw was the 3-D tour of Weird Al Yankovic's brain, a roller coaster with smarts and a curiously fun introduction to the basic parts of gray matter. As you'll see below, however, there were some "parts" not quite as "family friendly" as the ride itself. I can also report that though an outbreak was expected any moment, the fair was not overrun by zombies. Was I disappointed? A bit. We did amuse ourselves imagining scenarios at various locations at the fair and how we would best fight for our survival.

Nothing special here in an image that speaks for itself. What fascinates me about Ferris wheels is that they have an iconic power to represent equal parts joy and terror. Who amongst us has not imagined being stuck at the top under a baking sun, or the steady loosening of a crucial screw that fails and releases your car into the void?

The aforementioned, not-so-family-friendly Weird Al.

Diets of ordinary US citizens every year resemble more and more the tastes of central Europeans, who excel at such past-times as chocolate covered bacon. I was sorely tempted to give it a taste, but was forbidden by those who had provided transportation, on the grounds that they didn't want anyone puking in the car on the way back.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Book of the Week

Crazy stuff, really wild space opera from a Scottish master of the genre. The further along I get in this, the more irresistable its hold on me. Could be I'm just a sucker for this kind of thing, but generally cosmic tales of the far-flung future involving this group of planets over in this quadrant having a beef with an ancient alien cloud coming the heart of that black hole yonder don't stick, they reek too much of fantasy. Yet Banks has pulled me in with Excession, which has no shortage of galactic intrigue. It also has a touch of poetry, as the central conflict lies with a diplomat who must secure the soul of a dead starship captain who witnessed a black star older than the Big Bang.

She is in the keeping a sentient starship that passes time crafting tableaux of historic battles. We're talking about football field-length works of physical recreations. The ship is an eccentric and solicits people to come and hibernate so that it may use their sleeping forms in its art. The dead captain, personality stored in digital form and given holographic expression, wanders the scenes, belly perpetually pregnant, wistful for a day when she can see new worlds, new vistas, all the while ignorant of the diplomat who is rushing to find her before universal armageddon comes about.

Peripatetic Sights

An incurable walker am I, ocassionally with camera in hand. Here are some things I regularly see whilst hoofing about northern Seattle.

There's a local band called Mean Recess, presumably the owners of this fine vehicle. If only every school bus were thusly adorned, we might produce more children who wisely spend their days singing and prancing joyfully in constant adoration of mortal existence.

A memorable image of Bill Gates posted on a busy intersection. I am amazed that after being there several months, no one has torn it down. Folks around here might be uptight but they sure do love street art -or laughing at Mr Microsoft, maybe that's it.

This beautiful car is a short distance from my house and I look forward to seeing it daily. The workmanship is fine. Though hard to tell in this image, there are dozens of tiny details within the face, miniature angels and phrases like "If you can read this, buy a book!"

One Week Until Zombieland

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

TRON update

Continuing in the vein of tech fables, there is news about TRON:LEGACY populating the web almost daily. The film won't hit IMAX theatres until 12.17.10 (3D, of course) but Disney is doing a fine job of releasing tidbits on a regular basis to stoke the fires of anticipation in our hearts.

Steven Lisberger, the writer/director of the original film, was recently quoted saying what he thinks will carry over into the sequel:

I think that one of the themes in the story being expressed is where Flynn's allegiances really lie. He created breakthrough technology in the day, so it means something very special to him. But he also has a real world family, and he's being asked to decide who he loves more. Then it gets really tricky because there's a tendency for people to say, ‘The best thing I could do for my kid is bless them with the best technology,' and maybe the kid doesn't really want your technology, he just wants you... I think that's sort of an interesting metaphor because we're sort of in the race with the Devil.

Aspects of the world are going to hell, and we think if we can get to the point where we can simulate it, then we'll understand it and we'll solve the problem. We're struggling with AIDS and global warming, but if we can simulate it correctly, then we'll understand it and we can fix it. It's a classic sci-fi problem. Is technology gonna be your best friend or at times is it gonna be your best friend who turns out to be your worst enemy?

One of the virtues of TRON is that it offers layers of substance that perhaps don't come across at first viewing. More than a simple-minded adventure, it explores our relationship with machines in ways that continue to have significance a quarter century later. That's the kind of shelf life, you ask me, that merits a sequel. If only the Wachowski Brothers had waited so long to further explore the Matrix, we might have had something with similar value.

Okay, that was a cheap shot. The sequel is still over a year away and already I expect it to be better than The Matrix Reloaded. Hope abides.

One of these days I'll get around to formalizing my theory that The Matrix is essentially a remake of TRON. Actually, it doesn't take much to see the many parallels.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Speechless Tuesday

Monday, September 21, 2009

Fairy Tale for the Matrix Generation?

On the surface, 9 might seem a fable for the post-apocalyptic age. Built on the premise of what burden must be shouldered by machines after people are gone, this dark fantasy hasn't much to say. The eponymous hero, with or without companions as circumstances dictate, runs frantically from one pile of ruin to another with an all-too human motive: survival. Perhaps this is the legacy of humankind, to invest our mechanical progeny with an instinct for self-preservation.

What passes for the "message" is that human folly, here in the form of blind, slobbering love of technology, will be our ultimate undoing. What? Machines will destroy us? But, wait, there's more. 9 and his fellows, zipper-chested dolls one and all, are the remnant of humanity's dream of... well, technology adoration. The frantic to and fro of said zippery munchkins is done in the noble cause of keeping alive the flame of techno-love.

Can you blame me for wishing the film had less to say?

While there is much to delight the eye, for the brain it's thin pickings. The film has run half its length and already you feel like an armageddon scavenger, hoping desperately for a meaty scrap to carry you through to the finale. Adding to the empty calories is banal dialogue the only aim of which seems a quest for cliche. Fine voice acting is wasted on empty phrases that state the obvious or add some hackneyed platitude that distracts your attention from where it belongs, namely the incredible, sometimes awe-inspiring visuals.

I'd love to see 9 with the dialogue edited out. The storytelling is effective and conveys everything we need to know. Quality film-making is measured by visual comprehension. Dialogue lends nuance and dimension to what we're seeing, and when instead it condescends with reactive statements like, "You can't go there!" or "Why did you do that?", it detracts from overall enjoyment. In the case of a talking-heads live-action blockbuster, this justifies writing a film off entirely. When it comes to a clever piece of work as 9, the production design and screenwriter are at odds, and what is beautifully stated in sections where dialogue is minimal or absent comes off clamorous everywhere else, calling attention to the vapidity of the tale, which unfortunately, bad dialogue or not, has nothing of any substance to convey.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Book of the Week

This was one of those books that come along every once in awhile that cannot be put down. At first flush it might seem as though economic prose dealing with cannibalism would be all too easy to break from, yet I found myself completely engrossed. Maybe it's my recent obsession with the zombie apocalypse that made the story so compelling.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Encounters of the Blog Kind

To indulge a bit, there is another blog that's worth checking out where I'm a semi-regular contributor. It is a compendium of reviews for films determined by a book my friends got for Yuletide last year to be must-see movies.

Speechless Tuesday

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Time Has The Final Word

Remember the good old 1980's
When life was so uncomplicated?

Ever received a message from a rock album? It's happened to me lately, starting with Billy Joel and most recently and significantly coming from Electric Light Orchestra. Messages from music that I loved way back when, appreciated now for very different reasons.

Starting with the song "Surprises", listened to after a many years' absence, it seemed to address me in the present time, with these specially tailored lines:

You were so young and naive
I know it's hard to believe
But now it shouldn't surprise you at all

How did Billy Joel know what to tell me in 2009 when writing that song in the late eighties? Undoubtedely, there are hidden profundities to be discovered in Mr Joel's entire catalog, but this is sufficient for me. Still, it hit me at an odd angle.

ELO's album Time came into my possession a month ago, and it isn't merely a song now but an entire collection that is speaking to me in the moment. As a kid it was a funky sci-fi musical concept, with cool keyboards and electrovox (precursors, as it turns out, to English electronica) conveying the futureshock of a man dreaming of the next century. Revisiting it as a version of that very man, the experience is slightly unnerving.

Not that it stops me from listening. Good pop is a fine way to unwind after work, especially with the mad couple of weeks I've clawed my way through this month.

When Jeff Lynne addresses the "21st Century Man" it cuts to the quick, with lyrics like,

One day you're a hero
Next day you're a clown
There's nothing that is in between
Now you're a 21st century man

Likely it is my subjective connection from childhood that paints poignancy on this music. What's nice is that though there is a weird bridging from the early eighties to the present, I can still find things to appreciate in the writing and arrangement.

Here is one of my favorite selections, "Rain is Falling":

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Be a Beatle!

The Beatles: Rock Band is a science fiction milestone for our time. We stand on the verge of inundation by the avatar concept, as it proliferates in all forms of media, not least among them video games. Rock Band, which has delivered previous rocker out-of-body (or body off its rocker) experiences, hits a quality peak with its new offering. Players can play along with and harmonize alongside The Beatles, and the game doesn't stop there.

What sets this Rock Band apart is the immersion offered to players, in the history as well as the music of The Beatles. Every song is put into proper context, with offerings across the band's timeline, and players are not merely playing with them but as them. With the visibility and sustained popularity of the world's favorite Liverpudlians, a shot at channeling them through your fingers (and by association, your brain) has never been more accessible or enticing.

The SF aspect is groundbreaking, allowing players not only experience of an outer persona but those of pop stars whose fame most of us regular folk can never hope to attain. I've not played one of these games but briefly, and the thought of being George Harrison, albeit superficially, has seeded my brain with consideration of putting this on my Yuletide wish list.

Then again, maybe I'll bide my time and save my pennies for Yes: Rock Band.